^p Gamaliel ^raUforU
PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN. lUustrated.
PORTRAITS OF WOMEN. Illustrated.
UNION PORTRAITS. lUustrated.
CONFEDERATE PORTRAITS. Illustrated.
LEE THE AMERICAN. Illustrated.
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
ABIGAIL SMITH ADAMS
BOSTON AND NEW YORK.
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
(X\ft Stitietj^tie ^icz0 CambciCige
COPYRIGHT, 1917, 1918, 1919, BY THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 19I9, BY NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW CORPORATION
COPYRIGHT, I919, BY GAMALIEL BRADFORD
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
H. F. B.
II y a trois choses quej'ai beaucoup aimSes
et auxguelles je n'ai jamais rien compris:
les femmes, la peinture, et la musique.
Rien ne vit que par le detail.
This book might almost be called "Portraits of New
England Women," since, with the exception of Miss
Willard, all of the subjects studied in it were born in
New England. As I had devoted a good many years to
distinguished representatives of other parts of the
country, I felt at liberty to confine my researches for a
brief period to souls nearer home. In the study of women
it is especially difficult to obtain satisfactory material,
and material affecting the lives of New England women
was most readily accessible to me. At the same time,
of the seven New England characters here portrayed,
at least three, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Margaret Fuller
Ossoli, and Louisa May Alcott, are so thoroughly iden-
tified with the country at large that one hardly thinks
of their birthplace. Abigail Adams, Mary Lyon, and
Emily Dickinson are known to a great number of their
countrywomen and Sarah Alden Ripley ought to be so.
I hope, moreover, to follow this series with another,
embracing prominent women of other sections.
I am under deep obligation to various persons for
assistance in my work. Mrs. Ripley's grandchildren
have kindly supplied me with numerous letters, without
which it would have been impossible to make an ade-
quate study of her. Miss Charlotte A. Hedge has lent
me letters of Margaret Fuller to Dr. F. H. Hedge, and
the Boston Public Library has placed its valuable
Ossoli manuscripts at my disposal. Mount Holyoke
College has enabled me to make use of a most interest-
ing collection of reminiscences of Mary Lyon. Mr.
C. K. Bolton has allowed me to examine the corre-
spondence of Frances Willard with his mother, Mrs.
Sarah Knowles Bolton. And Mr. McGregor Jenkins
has lent me letters and has more especially furnished
me with significant personal memories of Emily Dick-
inson. To all these collaborators I am very grateful.
Wellesley Hills, Massachtisetts
September 30, 19 19
I. Abigail Adams i
II. Sarah Alden Ripley 33
III. Mary Lyon 65
IV. Harriet Beecher Stowe 99
V. Margaret Fuller Ossoli 131
VI. Louisa May Alcott 165
VII. Frances Elizabeth Willard 195
VIII. Emily Dickinson 227
Index - 271
Abigail Smith Adams Frontispiece
Sarah Alden Ripley 34
Mary Lyon 66
Harriet Beecher Stowe 100
Margaret Fuller Ossoli 132
Louisa May Alcott 166
Frances Willard 196
Emily Dickinson 228
PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
Born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, November ii, 1744.
Married John Adams, October 25, 1764. '
In Europe 1 784-1 788.
Died at Quincy, Massachusetts, October 28, 1818.
The wife of President John Adams and the mother of
President John Quincy Adams is sometimes accused of
being more man than woman in her temperament. This
is a mistake. She was a woman and a charming one,
even in an age when there was no offense in saying that
women differed from men in their hearts as well as in
She had a large and varied life. Starting from a
peaceful New England parsonage, where she learned
the love of God and good breeding, she passed a quiet
girlhood, then plunged, in her early married days, into
the fierce tumult of the Revolution, managed her family
and estate during her husband's long periods of absence,
stood at his side in the presence of the sovereigns of
Europe, reigned as the president's wife over the society
of Washington, and shared the long post-presidential
4 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
retirement in the Quincy home. She was always ade-
quate to every situation and said the word and did the
deed that dignity and high patriotism required of her.
But it is impossible to read her many letters and not feel
that through it all she was charmingly and delicately a
She herself understood and appreciated the softer
•elements of the feminine character. In England she
complains somewhat of the lack of these qualities : " The
softness, peculiarly characteristic of our sex, and which
is so pleasing to the gentlemen, is wholly laid aside here
for the masculine attire and manners of the Amazo-
nians."^ She herself is feminine in the deeper things
of life, in the tenderness of her affection and in the
bitterness of her mourning, when those she loves are
lost to her, as in her profound grief over her mother's
death. She is just as feminine in those lighter trifles
of fashion and dress which are supposed — by men —
to form the chief part of woman's conversation and
She was a thorough woman in her domestic interests,
in that busy, often trivial, care which sustains the un-
conscious felicity of home. She looked after her hus-
band's comfort as well as his greatness. In the midst of
shrewd advice as to his moral bearing among those
ABIGAIL ADAMS "5
who were making the American nation, she murmurs a
housewife's anxiety about his personal appearance : " I
feel concerned lest your clothes should go to rags, hav-
ing nobody to take any care of you in your long absence ;
and then, you have not with you a proper change for
the seasons." ^ She feels, sometimes a little impatiently,
the hurry of nothing which m.akes up domestic life.
Her health ? She believes she has little health. " Much
of an invalid," ^ she calls herself casually, and elsewhere
admits that her "health is infirm," and that she is not
"built for duration."^ But, bless me, she has no time
to think about health, or talk about it, or write about it.
The machine must go as long as it will.
How apt and vivid is her sketch of the interruptions
that puncture the whole course of her home existence!
She rises at six o'clock and makes her own fire, "in
imitation of his Britannic Majesty." She calls her serv-
ants — repeatedly, and notes that in future she will hire
only those who will stir at one call. Breakfast gets on
the table. She would like to eat it. A man comes with
coal. A man comes with pigs. Another man comes for
something else, and another. Meanwhile, where is
breakfast? And what flavor has it? "Attended to all
these concerns. A little out of sorts that I could not
finish my breakfast. Note; never to be incommoded
6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
with trifles." ° You think you are reading Madame de
Yet she loves her home with all a woman's true, deep
affection. Men often claim a speciality of home loving
and decry a woman's restlessness. They do not realize
that they shake off the burden of life when they enter
their own doors. A woman takes it up. Yet few men's
love is really deeper than a woman's for the home she
has created and every day sustains. It was so with this
lady. There are cares, indeed. But what is life with-
out cares ? "I have frequently said to my friends, when
they have thought me overburdened with care, I would
rather have too much than too little. Life stagnates
without action."^ And though she saw and knew all
the diversions of society and all the heights and depths
of the great outer world, she clung steadfastly to the
simplest maxim of a woman's heart. "Well-ordered
home is my chief delight, and the affectionate, domestic
wife, with the relative duties which accompan}^ that
character, my highest ambition."^
And as she was a woman in her love of home, so she
was thoroughly a woman in her love of her children and
in her care for them. If they are ill, she watches at their
bedsides with the tenderest solicitude, delights in their
recovery, and mourns almost beyond consolation when
ABIGAIL ADAMS 7
one is untimely snatched away. She herself superin-
tends their early studies, and most thoughtfully and
carefully. She does indeed regret her own lack of book
learning, because she has none to impart to her daugh-
ters; but perhaps, even in this regard, she was less
deficient than might be thought. She keeps little Johnny
at her knee reading aloud Rollin's "Ancient History,"
and hopes that he will come to " entertain a fondness for
it." ^ She vastly prefers Dr. Watts's " Moral Songs for
Children " to modern frivolities of " Jack and Jill " and
" Little Jack Horner." ^ Would she have liked " Rollo,"
I wonder, or would she not?
Whatever the value of her literary teaching, her
moral lessons were as homely, as sturdy, and as lofty
as those of a matron of Plutarch. On this point she was
fully supported by the resonant precepts of her husband :
"Root out every little thing. Weed out every mean-
ness. Make them great and manly. Teach them to
scorn injustice, ingratitude, cowardice, and falsehood."^**
But she needed no precepts from any one. Out of her own
heart she taught these things, and her apostrophe to her
son, when he left her for the great world, is simply the
flower of lessons and influences established many years
before : " Dear as you are to me, I would much rather
you should have found your grave in the ocean you have
8 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
crossed, or that any untimely death should crop you in
your infant years, than see you an immoral, profligate,
or graceless child." ^^
If one wants evidence of this maternal loftiness and
maternal tenderness combined, one has only to open the
Diary of John Quincy Adams and to see how reverent,
how affectionate, and how obviously sincere are the
numerous references to his mother's care and devotion.
" My mother was an angel upon earth. She was a min-
ister of blessing to all human beings within her sphere
of action. . . . She has been to me more than a mother.
She has been a spirit from above watching over me for
good, and contributing by my mere consciousness of her
existence to the comfort of my life." ^^ " There is not a
virtue that can abide in the female heart but it was the
ornament of hers." ^^ Yet the younger Adams was not
one inclined to overestimate human nature, even in those
most nearly bound to him. His devotion to his mother's
memory was as persistent as it was profound. When he
himself had reached his seventy-sixth year, the mere
reading of some of her letters threw him into a state of
singular excitement. "I actually sobbed as he read,
utterly unable to suppress my emotion. Oh, my mother !
Is there anything on earth so affecting to me as thy
name? so precious as thy instructions to my childhood,
so dear as the memory of thy life? " ^^
ABIGAIL ADAMS 9
We may safely say, then, that this was a true woman
in her home and with her children. She was a woman
likewise in the freshness and vivacity of her social re-
lations. When she writes to her granddaughter, "Culti-
vate, my dear, those lively spirits and that sweet inno-
cence and contentedness, which will rob the desert of its
gloom, and cause the wilderness to bloom around you," ^'^
we know that she herself had cultivated these things
with assiduity and success. She was in no way depend-
ent upon society and there were times when she dis-
tinctly shrank from it, when its duties were a burden and
its forms and ceremonials a wearisome embarrassment.
Her happiest, sunniest hours were no doubt passed with
her husband and children in the busy retirement of her
Quincy home. But at different periods of her life she
was called upon to mingle in all sorts of social circles,
the loftiest as well as the most brilliant, and everywhere
she bore herself with the grace and ease and dignity
of a refined and accomplished lady.
She had those most essential ingredients of the social
spirit, a woman's quick sense of the varied interest of
human character and a woman's sympathetic insight
into the workings of the Human heart. And she had,
also, a rare power of expression, so that her account of
striking scenes and distinguished people has often some-
10 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
thing of the snap and sparkle of Lady Mary Montagu
or Madame de Sevigne. How admirable, for instance,
is her picture of Madame Helvetius, the friend of Frank-
lin, ending, "I hope, however, to find amongst the French
ladies manners more consistent with my ideas of de-
cency, or I shall be a mere recluse." ^® Or, for a briefer
sketch, take that of Mrs. Cranch, who is " a little, smart,
sprightly, active woman and is wilted just enough to last
to perpetuity." ^^
And Mrs. Adams's thorough womanliness showed not
only in her personal relations, in her daily interests, in
her social glitter and vivacity, but in deeper and more
subtle sensibilities, which many true women are without.
She had an excellent control over her nerves, was quite
capable of stoical heroism, as we shall see later, but the
nerves were there and show, through all her mastery.
She would have readily admitted, with the lady of
I am a woman, therefore full of fears.
Or, as she herself puts it, " I never trust myself long with
the terrors which sometimes intrude themselves upon
me." ^^ The nerves responded to all sorts of other sug-
gestions also. To art perhaps not so much. The early
training of Puritan New England did not altogether fit
nerves for aesthetic sensibility. Yet her enthusiasm over
ABIGAIL ADAMS ii
the opera in Paris is far more than a mere conventional
ecstasy, and the possibiHties of music for her are richly
indicated in a casual sentence: "I cannot describe to
you how much I was affected the other day with a Scotch
song, which was sung to me by a young lady in order to
divert a melancholy hour." ^^
Nature touched her even more than music. The poets
she knew were those of the eighteenth century and her
formal description has rather too much of eighteenth-
century zephyrs and vernal airs. But it is easy to get
through this to her real, deep love of bare New England
pastures and wide meadows and the homely country-
side that had woven itself into her life. And as the
nerves thrilled to old Scotch airs, so they quivered and
melted under the coming of May days. "The approach
of spring unstrings my nerves, and the south winds
have the same effect upon me which Brydone says the
Sirocco winds have upon the inhabitants of Sicily." ^^
In short, she was a shifting, varying, mercurial
creature, as perhaps we all are, but she certainly more
than many of us. "Oh, why," she exclaims, "was I
born with so much sensibility, and why, possessing it,
have I so often been called to struggle with it? " ^^ One
moment she is "lost and absorbed in a flood of tender-
ness." ^^ The next " my heart is as light as a feather and
12 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
my spirits are dancing." ^^ To-day she writes: "I am
a mortal enemy to anything but a cheerful counte-
nance and a merry heart." ^^ And then to-morrow : " I
have many melancholy hours, when the best company
is tiresome to me and solitude the greatest happiness
I can enjoy." ^°
So it can hardly be claimed that she was too stoical
and too philosophical and too stern-hearted to be a
But Mrs. Adams lived in a tremendous time. In her
early married years her husband's political duties left
her alone to do both her work and his in the midst of
difficulty and danger. Later she was called upon to
stand by his side through great crises of statesmanship
and to give him counsel in triumph and comfort in de-
feat. She performed all these functions nobly, and to do
it required something more than the usual feminine con-
tributions to domestic felicity. She had a woman's
heart, a woman's nerves, a woman's tenderness; but
little indeed of what a man requires to make his way in
life was lacking to her.
She had a high and fine intelligence. Elaborate edu-
cation she had not, nor any woman in that day. She
ABIGAIL ADAMS 13
herself complains that she was not sent to school, that
ill health prevented any systematic mental training, that
reading and writing and the simplest arithmetic, with
a few accomplishments, were all that was thought neces-
sary for her or any of her sex. In later life she be-
wailed this state of things and urged that a wide and
rational spiritual culture was as necessary and as suit-
able for women as for men.
But we all know that education does not make intel-
ligence and that natural intelligence can supply almost
everything that education gives to either man or woman.
After all, schooling is but an inadequate and apologetic
substitute for brains. Brains Mrs. Adams had, and
needed no substitute. From her childhood her keen
and active wit was working, observing, acquiring, re-
jecting, laying by for future use. She was always a
wide reader, — read and quoted Shakespeare and Pope
and the eighteenth-century poets and essayists. Her
acuteness and independence of judgment are well shown
in this comment on the Drama of Moliere: ''1 send
with this the first volume of Moliere and should be glad
of your opinion of them. I cannot be brought to like
them. It seems to me to be a general want of spirit,
at the close of every one I have felt disappointed. There
are no characters but what appear unfinished and he
14 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
seems to have ridiculed vice without engaging us to
virtue; and though he sometimes makes us laugh, yet
't is a smile of indignation. . . . Moliere is said to have
been an honest man, but sure he has not copied from
his own heart. Though he has drawn many pictures
of real life, yet all pictures of life are not to be exhib-
ited upon the stage." ^® Above all, she read the classics,
of course in translation; even writers minor or less
known, like Polybius. Plutarch she nourished her heart
on, and when she signed her letters to her husband,
"Portia," it was partly an eighteenth-century affecta-
tion, but much more that the iron of old Roman virtue
had entered into the very substance of her soul.
Also, her intelligence reached far beyond books. She
had that penetrating, analytical instinct which plucks
wisdom from the actions and motives of men and which
especially lays the foundation of such wisdom in a close,
dispassionate study of the observer's own heart. " You
know I make some pretensions to physiognomy,"^'^ she
writes. The pretensions were justified. She saw many
faces in her life and read them attentively, curiously,
and always with profit.
But the finest testimony to Mrs. Adams's intelligence
is the letters addressed to her by her husband and her
son. Both were men of wide and deep reflection. Both
ABIGAIL ADAMS 15
touched perpetually the gravest problems of statesman-
ship and of human conduct generally. Both discussed
these problems with wife and mother as they would
have discussed them together, or with the wisest men
of their time. Would this have been possible with
any but a mind of the broadest grasp and keenest
power of comprehension?
And the intelligence was progressive as well as vigor-
ous. Mrs. Adams's energetic protest to her husband
against the legal and political subjection of women in
that day has been often quoted and justly praised, — it
is as dignified as it is energetic: "That your sex are
naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established
as to admit of no dispute," ^^ and she urges such an
adjustment of law as may check that tyranny. In re-
ligious matters there is the same broad, sober common-
sense. Mrs. Adams had been brought up in the strictest
New England Calvinism, and always retained the in-
tense earnestness of that creed and its disposition to
try all things by the standard of conscience. But big-
otry and intellectual cowardice were alike abhorrent to
her, and she had no inclination to judge others harshly.
" True, genuine religion is calm in its inquiries, deliber-
ate in its resolves, and steady in its conduct." ^^ And
besides common-sense she infused into her piety some-
1 6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
thing of that sunshine which was the sorest need of
Calvinism and for want of which it perished: "I am
one of those who are willing to rejoice always. My
disposition and habits are not of the gloomy kind. I
believe that ' to enjoy is to obey.' " ^^
But vigorous and clear as Mrs. Adams's mind was
in the abstract, its energy showed still more in practical
matters, as was natural and necessary with the life she
lived. We have seen that she could be perfectly con-
tented with simple home surroundings and regular
pursuits. But she wanted neither sloth nor lethargy.
"Confinement does not suit me or my family," ^^ she
wrote to her granddaughter. And again: "Man was
made for action, and for bustle, too, I believe. I am
quite out of conceit with calms." ^^ She had her share
of furious housewifery, and no sooner gets on shipboard
than she sets to work with "scrapers, mops, brushes,
infusions of vinegar, etc.,"^^ to produce the neatness
and order which she maintained daily at home without
such appeal to violent measures.
And her domestic economy went far beyond mops and
brushes. During her husband's long and necessary ab-
sences, she undertook not only the ordinary duties of
wife and mother, but the general management of farms
and property, and performed these functions most effi-
ABIGAIL ADAMS 17
ciently, as is shown by the commendation which she
receives from her loving partner quite as frequently as
advice. She makes purchases and sales, she hires help,
she garners crops. Through it all she carries her own
burden and avoids, so far as possible, filling her letters
with complaints. "I know the weight of public cares
lie so heavy upon you that I have been loath to mention
your own private ones." ^^
In dealing with that greatest and ever-present and
insoluble problem of married and all other life, money,
Mrs. Adams herself asserts that she was thrifty and
prudent. So do all the rest of us, all man and woman-
kind. But in this case I think we may believe the state-
ment. There was certainly no niggardliness. The
husband was too large for petty cheese-paring. "You
know I never get or save anything by cozening or
classmating," ^"^ he writes, and his wife was like him.
She maintained a sober decency and propriety in her
own expenditure, and through all the cramped revolu-
tionary time, when dollars were even rarer than hope,
she always kept and used the means of relieving those
whose straits were worse than her own. But she under-
stood thoroughly both the theory of economy and its
practice. Few professional students would have an-
alyzed financial conditions more keenly than she does in
1 8 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
the long letter written to her husband at an early stage
of the war.^® And the practical strain shows in her
simple statement: "I have studied, and do study, every
method of economy in my power; otherwise a mint of
money would not support a family." ^^
Certainly, without any intention of boasting, she her-
self, in her later years, sums up her usefulness to hus-
band and children when she is explaining to her sister
the multiplicity of care that seems to hang around her
as thickly in age as it did in youth: "You know, my
dear sister, if there be bread enough, and to spare, un-
less a prudent attention manage that sufficiency, the
fruits of diligence will be scattered by the hand of dis-
sipation. No man ever prospered in the world without
the consent and cooperation of his wife." ^^
As she had patience to endure want and privation,
so she had courage to meet danger. When those she
loves are in peril, her heart feels "like a heart of
lead."^^ But for herself, sensitive as her nerves may
be, there is a strain of heroism which swells and hardens
at the touch of emergency. The anticipation of evils
makes her doubt a little. "If danger comes near my
dwelling, I suppose I shall shudder." *° But when her
husband writes to her, " In case of real danger, of which
you cannot fail to have previous intimations, fly to the
ABIGAIL ADAMS 19
woods with our children," ^^ we know, we see, that she
would have had perfect presence of mind either to fly;
or to remain, as the wisest courage might dictate. "I
am not suddenly elated or depressed, " ^^ she says ; and
again, " I am not apt to be intimidated." ^^ Though she
was far from given to self-commendation, she declares
solemnly that if the men are not able to perform their
duty to their country, the enemy will find the women
to be a veritable race of Amazons. Nay, she even goes
forth as a spectator and enjoys one of the most fierce,
intense excitements known to man, the vision of a field
of battle. " I have just returned from Penn's hill, where
I have been sitting* to hear the amazing roar of cannon,
and from whence I could see every shell which was
thrown. The sound, I think, is one of the grandest in
nature, and is of the true species of the sublime." ^^
Do not, however, set this lady down as one who would
have taken a bloodthirsty delight in bull-fights or the
prize ring. If she hearkened with a thrill of awed
pleasure to the booming of cannon, it was because they
were fired in defense of her country and of liberty. She
knew well what her friends and fellow citizens were
fighting for, and if she took a passionate interest in
the struggle, it was because her whole heart and hopes
were fixed upon the end of it. Her husband's letters
20 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
to her contain much lucid statement and analysis of
the methods and aims of the Revolution, and hers are
scarcely behind hiSi in clear understanding and intensity
She thought much, and thought with broad intelli-
gence on general political questions, liked to talk of
them, liked to write of them. "Well, you tell H. she
must not write politics; now it is just as natural for
me to fall upon them as to breathe." ^^ She has no
illusions about democracy, or about human nature, —
speaks at times even with cynical insight of its failures
and defects. The lamentable inconsistencies of states-
manship are not hidden from her. How many who
were fighting for American freedom at that day had
the courage to cry out that it was absurd for men who
kept slaves to take up arms and fight battles in the name
of liberty? Mrs. Adams had that courage.*^
Yet, in spite of the selfishness of politicians and the
inadequacy of human ideals, this wise and energetic
woman never faltered for a moment in her devotion
to the cause of her country, never wavered in her hope.
The warmth and the glory of her enthusiasm must have
been a splendid comfort to her husband and to all who
knew her. Her passion does, indeed, occasionally de-
generate into bitterness against her enemies. Alas, we
ABIGAIL ADAMS 21
do not need recent examples to show us that this is too
easy with even the wisest and the noblest. " Those who
do not scruple to bring poverty, misery, slavery, and
death upon thousands will not hesitate at the most dia-
bolical crimes," she writes ; " and this is Britain." *^ But
she has the same noble scorn for folly and meanness
on her own side. "If our army is in ever so critical a
state, I wish to know it. . . . If all America is to be ruined
and undone by a pack of cowards and knaves, I wish
to know it. Pitiable is the lot of their commander."^*
And her words of counsel, of confidence, of inspiration,
are never wanting. Her young brother-in-law longs to
enter the army. She pleads and reasons with his
doubting mother to make her permit it. Her husband
is involved in an endless tangle of difficulty and danger.
She would not have him shun an hour of it. "You
cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive
spectator; but if the sword be drawn, I bid adieu to
all domestic felicity, and look forward to that country
where there are neither wars nor rumors of war, in
a firm belief, that through the mercy of its King we
shall both rejoice there together." ^^ Nor does she urge
others to sacrifices which she is unwilling to make her-
self. Foreign luxuries? Let them go. Plain milk
makes as good a breakfast as sugared coffee. Not
22 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
one of the comforts to which she has been accustomed
but she will cheerfully renounce. If the men are taken
from the fields, the women will do the work for them.
She herself doubts her strength for digging potatoes,
but she can gather corn and husk it. What she can
do, she will do, that her children and her children's
children may be free.
Mrs. Adams's interesting combination of a true
woman's gentleness and sensibility with the masculine
qualities called for by her time is best studied, as some
of the preceding quotations indicate, in her relation to
her husband. To understand this relation fully, it is
necessary to have some idea of his very marked and
peculiar character. He was, then, a man of broad in-
tellectual power, of keen insight into political and moral
problems, of energetic and self-sacrificing patriotism.
He commanded the respect of all men by his dignity,
his courage, his sincerity of speech and action, his en-
tire honesty. But men did not love him; for he had
not tact; he had not social charm; he bristled with ego-
tism, and, like many egotists, he was morbidly sensitive
and showed it. I do not know any one quotation that
much better depicts the man than the following: "I
ABIGAIL ADAMS 23
have a very tender, feeling heart. This country knows
not, and never can know, the torments I have endured
for its sake. I am glad it never can know, for it would
give more pain to the benevolent and humane than I
could wish even the wicked and malicious to feel.'"^^
Try to imagine Washington saying that.
Also, John Adams was a man who found fault with
everything, and therefore naturally he found fault with
his wife. Even his praise too often savors of patronage
and his advice is apt to carry a strong taint of criti-
cism. Occasionally he flings out in undisguised dis-
pleasure. Though she was the last person to complain
of her health, he cannot resist a sarcasm about it : " My
wife has been sick all winter, frequently at the point
of death, in her own opinion." ^^ Her indiscretion in
money matters, though at a time when discretion was
almost impossible, provokes him to sharp reproof.
" How could you be so imprudent ? You must be frugal,
I assure you."^^ But the best is the incident of the
young coach horses, driven imprudently to church and
causing a most indecorous disturbance there. Mrs.
Adams was not present herself, but she authorized the
proceeding, and the husband notes, in hot wrath, "I
scolded at the coachman first, and afterwards at his
mistress, and I will scold again and again; it is my
24 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
duty."^^ Perhaps a husband to whom scolding is a
duty is even worse than one to whom it is a pleasure.
Nevertheless, this husband, who could scold and be
imperious and even tyrannical, like others, adored and
reverenced and obeyed his wife, like others. How pretty
are his compliments to her wit and intelligence, though
he veils them under sarcasm. Of a certain acquaint-
ance he says: "In large and mixed companies she is
totally silent, as a lady ought to be. But whether her
eyes are so penetrating, and her attention so quick to
the words, looks, gestures, sentiments, etc., of the com-
pany, as yours would be, saucy as you are this way,
I won't say."^* And there is no trace of sarcasm in
the ample admission to his son that in all the vicissi-
tudes of fortune his wife had been his help and com-
fort, while without her he could not have endured and
survived. In a letter written to his granddaughter the
same enthusiasm appears, even more nobly. He com-
pares his wife to the heroic Lady Russell, who stood
by her husband's side in times equally troublous. "This
lady," he says, "was more beautiful than Lady Rus-
sell, had a brighter genius, more information, a more
refined taste, and [was] at least her equal in the virtues
of the heart." ^^
An extensive correspondence, covering many years.
ABIGAIL ADAMS 25
reveals to us fully Mrs. Adams's relations with this
companion of her long life, reveals her love and anxiety
and devotion and enthusiasm for the man to whom
she early gave her whole heart and from whom she
never withdrew it for a moment. As he rises in the
world, becomes a guide and a leader, a prominent citi-
zen, a great historical figure, she accompanies him in
spirit always, with watchful care, with fruitful caution,
with delicate suggestion. She sighs over the necessi-
ties of state which part her from him. She slights, as
we all do, great gifts of fortune that we have, and
deplores those that are denied her. She hoped to have
married a man, not a title, she says. A humble, pri-
vate station with a husband would have been sweeter
than grandeur without one. Yet we know well enough
that she would not have had him lose an inch of for-
tune for her comfort, and never woman developed more
fully the grace and ease and dignity which great station
requires than did she. The letter she wrote him on
the day of his inauguration as president has been often
cited and deserves citation. It is a noble letter. " My
feelings are not those of pride or ostentation, upon the
occasion. They are solemnized by a sense of the obli-
gations, the important trusts, and numerous duties con-
nected with it. That you may be enabled to discharge
26 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
them with honor to yourself, with justice and impar-
tiaHty to your country, and with satisfaction to this
great people, shall be the daily prayer of your A. A." *^
And as she was perfectly adapted to share her hus-
band's greatness, so she accepted with equal composure
and dignity his comparative failure and downfall. She
did not seek honors and glories, she says, and she is
quite content to part from them. A peaceful life at
Quincy, with the man she loves, is all she ever asked
for, and nothing can be more delightful than to have
it given back to her. We know how much of sincerity
there is in such declarations and how much of credit-
able and fine mendacity. In Mrs. Adams they were
probably as sincere as they ever are. She was a sincere
woman. But though she was perfectly ready to accept
her husband's defeat, she could not quite forgive those
who, in her opinion, had conspired against him and be-
trayed him. Toward such political enemies her lan-
guage is not wholly free from a certain ungracious,
if pardonable, acerbity. Thus, she says of one who
should have been beneath her contempt, "I hear that
Duane has got hold of my letter to Niles, and spits
forth vulgar abuse at me . . . but the low sarcasms
of these people affect me no more at this day than the
ABIGAIL ADAMS 27
Even in regard to Jefferson her animosity was long
a-dying. In early days she had known him well and
admired and loved him. Then the fierce political con-
test which made him her husband's successor parted
them. Between the two men the feud was soon for-
gotten, and the long correspondence of their old age,
crowned by their deaths on the same anniversary of
American independence, is one of the striking traditions
of our history. But Mrs. Adams forgave more slowly
than her husband. When Jefferson, who had always
admired her and who spoke of her as " one of the most
estimable characters on earth," ^^ finally made a direct
appeal to their former affection, she answered him with
courtesy, but with a clear, vigorous, burning logic that
showed how deep and unhealed the old wound was:
Jefferson's conduct, she says, she "considered as a
personal injury." Then she ends, as a Christian should :
" I bear no malice. I cherish no enmity. I would not
retaliate if it was in my power." ^^ But nobody is left
in a moment's doubt as to what she felt.
Through all these accidents and floods of fortune it
is easy to observe how great at once and how unob-
trusive was Mrs. Adams's influence over her husband.
She never dreamed of any vulgar domination, or de-
sired it. She knew well the limits of her activity and
28 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
his and respected them. Her advice, when given at
all, was given discreetly, tentatively, and, without being
in any way enforced, was left with time to prove its
value. Time did prove its value, and in consequence
the recipient of it came to look for more and to depend
upon it more than he knew, perhaps more than even
she herself knew.
Yet in all that concerned their personal relations, as
indeed in all that concerned human nature, her knowl-
edge was far finer and more delicate than his. It was
just this exquisite comprehension of his character and
temperament that made her counsel of such constant
utility. To be sure, her means of information were
greater, as well as her faculty of insight. He had little
reserve, with her at any rate, spoke out his needs and
hopes and discouragements, made plain his strength and
weakness, unrolled his heart like a scroll before her
searching and tender scrutiny. This she could not do.
She felt more than he those mighty, subtle barriers
which seal the tongue and make it incapable of utter-
ing what it yearns to utter. In one of her letters occurs
this simple statement which says so much : " My pen is
always freer than my tongue. I have written many
things to you that I suppose I never could have
talked." ^^ Yet even her pen is tongue-tied in compari-
ABIGAIL ADAMS 29
son with his. Therefore it is evident that much of her
is beyond his divination, while she sees clear into every
corner of his heart, understands what affection there
is, what power there is, what w^eakness there is, under-
stands just exactly the weight and significance there
is in those scoldings delivered again and again from a
sense of duty. Must we add that she saw all this partly
from finer vision and partly from greater eagerness,
while he saw not only all he was fitted, but also all that
he desired, to see? ^
For she was a woman, and her love was her whole
soul; and it is a delight, after all these strayings in
masculine by-paths, to return to the woman in her. She
writes long letters on great matters, domestic difficul-
ties, foreign levies, questions of policy, questions of
state; but always in some brief sentence there is the
heart of the letter and the heart of the woman. It is an-
noying sometimes to stiff, starched John. " I shall have
vexations enough, as usual," he writes. " You will have
anxiety and tenderness enough, as usual. Pray strive
not to have too much." ®^ When there is prospect of their
letters being captured by the British and printed, his
comment is, that they would both be made to appear
Ridiculous ! What does she care for being ridiculous ?
30 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
This is the man she worships and she wants him. At
the very suggestion of his being ill, ten thousand hor-
rors seize upon her imagination, and she says so. All
he writes of state matters is very well. She is glad
to hear it, hungers for it. But she hungers far more
for those little tokens of tenderness which he has no
time for giving. "Could you, after a thousand fears
and anxieties, long expectation and painful suspense, be
satisfied with my telling you that I was well, that I
wished you were with me, that my daughter sent her
duty, that I had ordered some articles for you, which
I hoped would arrive, etc., etc.? By Heaven, if you
could, you have changed hearts with some frozen Lap-
lander, or made a voyage to a region that has chilled
every drop of your blood." ^^ Love her, oh, yes, she
knows he loves her, after his fashion, but why doesn't
he say so, after her fashion? "Every expression of
tenderness is a cordial to my heart." ^* " I want some
sentimental effusions of the heart." ®^ The language
is the language of Addison, but the want is the want
of Eve forever. It murmurs through these letters of
war and business like a touch of birdsong on a field of
Then, when we Have got it thoroughly into our heads
that this was a woman and a lover, we can end with
ABIGAIL ADAMS 31
her own splendid answer — appropriate at this day as
it was at that — when she was asked how she bore
having Mr. Adams absent for three years in his coun-
try's service. "If I had known, sir, that Mr. Adams
could have effected what he has done, I would not only
have submitted to the absence I have endured, painful
as it has been, but I would not have opposed it, even
though three years more should be added to the num-
ber (which Heaven avert!). I feel a pleasure in being
able to sacrifice myi selfish passions to the general good,
and in imitating the example which has taught me to
consider myself and family but as the small dust of the
balance, when compared with the great community."^®
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY
Sarah Alden Bradford
Bom in Boston, July 31, 1793.
Married Rev. Samuel Ripley, 1818.
Lived in Waltham, Massachusetts, 1818-1846.
Lived in Concord, Massachusetts, from 1846
until her death.
Husband died, November 24, 1847.
Died in Concord, July 26, 1867.
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY
Few American women of to-day know of Mrs. Samuel
Ripley, but a sentence from Senator Hoar's "Autobi-
ography " will give her a favorable introduction : " She
was one of the most wonderful scholars of her time, or
indeed of any time. President Everett said she could
fill any professor's chair at Harvard." To this we
may add the testimony of Professor Child, whose au-
thority no one will question : " The most learned woman
I have ever known, the most diversely learned perhaps
of her time, and not inferior in this respect, I venture
to say, to any woman of any age."
It seems worth while to hear a little more about her,
does it not?
From her childhood she had a passion for books and
study. Every available minute was snatched for them,
and some that were not available. " I never go to Boston
or anywhere else, my passion for reading increasing
inversely with time," she writes when little more than a
child. In the early years of the nineteenth century.
36 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
when she was growing up, New England was not very-
favorable to the education of girls — nor was any other
place. But she was fortunate in having a father —
Captain Bradford, of Duxbury — who was a scholar
as well as a sea captain, and who loved her and liked
to indulge her fancies.
" Father, may I study Latin ? " she asked him.
"Latin! A girl study Latin! Certainly. Study
anything you like."
Whereupon she compares him, greatly to his advan-
tage, with another father who endeavored to convince
his daughter that "all knowledge, except that of do-
mestic affairs, appears unbecoming in a female."
Becoming or not, all knowledge was acceptable to her.
She studied Latin until she could read it like a modern
tongue, Greek the same, also French, German, and Ital-
ian. She did this largely alone, German without any
assistance whatever, persisting incredibly, " working still
at an abominable language without being sensible of the
least progress," she complains. Nor did she confine
herself to languages. Her zeal for mathematics and
philosophy was fully equal. Most of all, perhaps, she
loved the sciences; and chemistry, astronomy, and
especially botany, were a delight to her from youth
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 37
Nor did she take her study of languages as a task
simply, as an end in itself, as so many do. It was but a
means, a greater facility for getting at the thoughts of
wise men and past ages. She read Latin and Greek
widely as well as thoroughly. Tacitus and Juvenal must
have furnished odd reflection for a schoolgirl, and it is
not every infant of fourteen who regales her imagina-
tion with the novels of Voltaire.
Naturally such solitary reading in a child of that age
had something academic about it, and the intellectual
enthusiasm of her early letters abounds in pleasing sug-
gestions of copy-book moralities. Yet the keen, vigorous
insight often breaks through, even here. Conventional
habit might lead an ordinary student to moralize on
death ; but few ordinary students would generalize their
botanical observations into the remark that soon "our
bodies, transformed into their airy elements, maybe con-
verted into the jointed stalk of the rank grass whicH
will wave over our graves." Pretty well for a girl of
And though she studied rules and learned traditions,
and so early laid over her spirit a mighty mass of au-
thority, she did not propose to be in any way a slave to
it. When rules vex her, she cries out against them. For
instance, she could never spell, and why should she ? "I
38 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
wish the free spirit were not trammeled by these con-
founded rules." Also, while she studies for study's
sake, and could hardly be expected, in the early days, to
interest herself too much in the why of it, you get sin-
gular hints of penetration where you least look for
them. She asks herself whether her devotion to the
Classics springs " from pride of learning in your humble
servant or intrinsic merit in Cicero, Virgil, and Tacitus."
The question is one that many an older scholar might
put with advantage.
It is, above all, in the line of religious speculation that
one examines most curiously Sarah's gradual change
from a conventional acceptance of what is taught her
to fierce, independent thinking for herself. She was
brought up on by no means narrow lines of orthodoxy.
But in her early letters there is a serious and earnest
acceptance of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity
and a loyal effort to apply them. Gradually this unques-
tioning submission yields to the steady encroachment of
the spirit of inquiry, the "dread of enthusiasm, of the
mind's becoming enslaved to a system perhaps errone-
ous, and shut forever against the light of truth." With
the process of years the emancipation grows more
marked, until little of the old faith is left but the
unfailing habit of its goodness.
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 39
Do not, however, for a moment suppose that this
stuciious and thoughtful childhood was altogether lost
in bookishness, that Sarah was, in youth or in age, a
stuffy pedant. She was never that in the least, at any
time of her life ; never gave that impression to any one.
She was at all points an energetic, practical, efficient,
common-sense human being. She did not indeed have
the eager life of sport and diversion that the girl of
to-day has. No girl had it then. There was no tennis
or basket-ball, not even skating, or swimming, or riding.
These things would not have been ladylike if they had
been possible. Instead of them, there were only long
walks in the Duxbury woods, the rich, wholesome flavor
o'f the New England autumn : " The great pear tree at
the gate, full of orange pears ; the ground strewed with
golden high-tops ; the girl in the corn-barn paring apples
to dry; the woods filled with huckleberries."
Also, there were the pressing cares of daily life, where
mouths were many and means were little. Sarah had
her full share of these and met them with swift and
adequate efficiency. It is true, she groans sometimes
over "that dreadful ironing day," and rebels a little
when "Betsey, teasing to know how the meat Is to be
dissected," interferes with letters filled with Greek poets
and Roman historians. But she comes right down to
40 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
earth an3 stays there, heats the irons, dissects the meat,
sweeps the parlor, at proper times takes an apparently-
absorbed interest in shopping and ribbons and furbe-
lows, as a normal girl should.
Even her abstruser preoccupations are put to prac-
tical use. The oldest of a large family, she imparts her
own acquirements to those who come after her, not mak-
ing any one the scholar she herself was, but giving them
all an education exceptional in that day or any day.
Also, she gave them more than book-education ; for the
early death of her mother left her at the head of the
household, and she attended to every Huty as if her
beloved books did not exist at all. Nor was she moved
by the sense of duty only, but by tenderness and affec-
tion, as appears charmingly in the words written by
her father to her mother from oversea: "Tell Sarah
(oh, she is a seraph!) that I thank her with my tears
which flow fast as I now write and think of her good
behavior, her virtues, her filial piety."
To which let me add these few words from the same
source, which show that she was a live, flesh-and-blood
girl and not a mere copy-book model : " You I hope are
skipping, jumping, dancing, and running up and down
in Boston. This I know you are doing if you are well,
for you are always on the wing."
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 41
Souls that skip and dance and are always on the
wing usually have the elements of sociability in them.
In her youth, as later, Sarah was popular and beloved
by those who knew her. She had a singular charm of
simplicity and grace, and if she was aroused and inter-
ested, she had that social attraction which comes when
quick words spring from vivid and eager thoughts. At
the same time, she never sought the world and often
shunned it. Her first preoccupation was with books,
and she turned to them when possible. Trivial social
occasions were to be avoided on principle: "I do not
intend to give up all society; I intend only to relinquish
that from which I can gain no good." Moreover, she
was naturally shy and self-conscious, doubted her own
powers of conversation and entertainment, her own in-
stinct of behavior in company. A 3Vead of impropriety,
she says, is the plague of her life. And again, " I should
have exerted myself more, but I believe I shall never
learn to talk."
She was a close analyst of Her sensations and experi-
ences with others as well as alone, and this is not a
temper favorable to complete social enjoyment. The
hearts of those about her she read with equal keenness
— a habit also not always socially fortunate. She would
not for the world have hurt the feelings of a single
42 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
human being; and when she reproaches herself with
talking scandal, we know that it is such scandal as one
might expect from a saint. But even at an early age she
saw men and women as they are, and this, alas, in our
mingled life, is too often to appear ill-nature3. There-
fore she turned from men and women to books and
thoughts. Which does not mean that she had not kindly
affections, deep and tender and lasting. Here also
the sharp probe of her analysis intrudes itself. To her
dearest friend she says, "I love you as much as I am
capable of loving any one " ; and late in life she observes,
" I have learned by experience that friendship is a plant
that must be watered and nursed or it withers."
But these self-doubting loves often are the tenderest
and truest, and Sarah's 3evotion to those for whom
she really cared was as sincere as it was lasting. With a
humility as touching as her independence, she writes to
one of them, " You are the only person who ever thought
me of any consequence and I am pretty well convinced
that other folks are more than half right. I want you
to love me, but do as you please about it."
These words were written to that singular person-
age, Mary Moody Emerson, aunt of Ralph Waldo and
half-sister of Samuel Ripley, whom Sarah afterwards
married. The friendship between these ladies was
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 45
close and warm, and Mrs. Ripley always spoke of Miss
Emerson with the greatest esteem. But one even
nearer to her was Miss Allyn, later Mrs. Francis, and
the long series of letters that passed between them is
delightful in its simplicity, its cordiality, its curious
revelation of two pure and sympathetic spirits. What
an odd mixture it presents of common daily interests,
religious aspiration, and intellectual enthusiasm! New
bonnets, old prayers, botany, chemistry, Homer and
Tacitus jostle each other on the same page with quite
transparent genuineness and charm.
The one topic supposed to be most common in young
ladies' letters, that is, young men and their doings and
their attentions, is quite absent here. The truth is,
Sarah was not concerned with such things. There is
no evidence that in her childhood and youth her heart
was ever touched. When she was twenty-five years
old, she married Mr. Ripley. She did not pretend that
it was a marriage of love on her side. She had the
greatest respect for her husband, who was a clergyman
of high and noble character in every way. Her father
was anxious for the match, and she yielded to persua-
sion. But at the time a life of solitary study seemed to
her preferable, as she frankly admits. The word's with
which she announced her engagement, in writing to
44 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
Miss Emerson, are curiously characteristic: "Your
family have probably no idea what trouble they may
be entailing on themselves ; I make no promises of good
behavior, but knowing my tastes and habits they must
take the consequences upon themselves." After which,
it need merely be added that there never was a more
devoted and affectionate wife.
I AM going to pa^s at once from Mrs. Ripley in youth
to Mrs. Ripley in age, because in fairness I should end
with the ripe perfection of her middle years. It so hap-
pens that we have abundant correspondence of the
earlier and later periods, but little between, when she
was too occupied and too active to write. In age as in
youth her spirit was pure, lofty, and serene; but with
her temperament it was natural that the sadness of age
should be peculiarly apparent. The contrast cannot be
better illustrated than by two very beautiful passages,
written fifty years apart.
In the buoyancy of early days she writes: "A light
breakfast and a ride into town in the cool morning
air, stretched my existence through eternity. I lived
ages in an hour." The tottering limbs and broken
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 45
thoughts of after years recall a dim echo of these rap-
tures, how far, how very far away : " I took a walk in
the pine grove near the cemetery, yesterday morning,
and crept Sown the hill into a deep ravine we used to
call the bowl, covered with decayed leaves, where we
used to play tea with acorns for fairy cups; the acorns
and the cups remain, but the charm is gone never to
It is in this older period of her life that the impression
of Mrs. Ripley's personal appearance survives with most
of those who have told us anything about her career. It
is not said that even in youth she was especially beau-
tiful; but in youth as in age there must have been the
suggestion of earnest purity and dignity, so marked in
all the likenesses of her that remain. Her features are
calm, thoughtful, noble, sympathetic, but with a hint
of the sadness of one who has meditated long on life
with vast comprehension and limited hope.
This impression of sadness is undeniably prominent
in the numerous letters of her later years. "Sorrow,
not hope," she says, "is the color of old age." Her
sorrow never has the shade of petulance or pitiful
complaint. It is even penetrated with a sweet kindli-
ness that often amounts to sunshine. But the sorrow is
there, deeply motived and all-pervading.
46 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
To her clear vision it seems that all things are falling
away from her. Society? The contact with her fellows
had never been the chief thing in her life. Now the few
she loved are gone or going, and the many who used to
excite a vague curiosity have such different ways and
thoughts that she can hardly understand them any more.
Her last years were passed in the Manse, at Concord,
the dwelling of her husband's forefathers. The Manse
was then, as it has always been, widely hospitable, and
the hurry of eager feet often passed her threshold and
the door of her quidt chamber. She listened to it with
sympathetic tenderness, but her interest faded with the
Religion? Religion had melted for her into a great
love. But of active beliefs she cherished few or none.
The days of strenuous thought and fierce probing of
impenetrable secrets were over. She would gladly put
aside the little child's questions if she could have the
little child's peace. "How well it is that the world is
so large, that lichens grow on every tree, that there are
toadstools as well as sermons for those that like them."
Newspapers ? She had rarely read them in her most
active days. She could find little interest in them now.
Even the turbulence of the Civil War touched her but
slightly. She had drunk deep of the horrors of the past
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 47
and hate3 them. Why should she revive their torment
in the present ? The war, she vi^rites, " sits on me as a
nightmare." But, Hke a nightmare, she shakes it off
when she can.
Study? Ah, that alone is still real, as always. And
she would have echoed the phrase that Sainte-Beuve
loved. On se lasse de tout excepte de comprendre.
" Thank Heaven," she says, " I led a lonely life of study
in my youth and return to its rest with satisfaction."
The books on her shelves are friends and companions
who will not desert her. "When I am alive I hold
audience with Plato, and when I am not, I gaze on his
outside with delight." She learns Spanish by herself
at seventy and reads Don Quixote with relish, com-
plaining only that the pronunciation is impossible for
her. Yet, after all, even books are but pale comforters,
when life is behind instead of before. And in a dull,
dark moment she confesses that she reads mainly to kill
As the years grow shorter and the hours longer, the
one thing that she falls back upon more and more is
the affections of home. Her memory fails her, her
great mental powers no longer sustain her. But, in
noting this, she observes with touching pathos, "I may
be childish, but there are no limits to love." In her
48 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
active years she had never depended upon those around
her for comfort or for diversion. To her sister-in-law,
who remarked that she was contented only when she
had all her children in the room with her, Mrs. Ripley
said that she did not require her children's presence so
long as she knew that they were happy. But as time
flowed on, her heart turned more to the contact of those
she loved. It pleased her to be busy for them, when she
could, though she deplored the weakness and ineptitude
of age in this regard. " It seems strange that I that have
so litle to do, should do that little wrong." It pleased her
to have them about her. She writes to the daughter she
loved best, with winning tenderness : " I feel a want un-
satisfied, and I think it must be to see you. Now this
is somewhat of a concession for one who has always
professed entire independence. But there is often,
nowadays, a solitude of the heart which nothing can fill
except your image."
She loved to hear the prattle of her grandchildren, to
watch their pretty, w^ild activities, as if they were crea-
tures of her dreams. So they were, and she regarded
them, as she regarded the whole world and her own
soul, with a sad and gentle curiosity. In such a tender
atmosphere of thought, of love, and of memory, she
faded away, in the spirit of the beautiful words which
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 49
she herself wrote not many weeks before the end : " We
have kept step together through a long piece of road in
the weary journey of Hfe: we have loved the same
beings and wept together over their graves. I have not
your faith to console me, as they drop one after another
from my side; yet my will, I trust, is in harmony with
the divine order, and resigned where light is wanting.
The sun looks brighter and my home more tranquil as
the evening of life draws near."
Now, to consider Mrs. Ripley as she was in her best
years, from thirty to sixty, with all her wealth of
spiritual power and practical usefulness. We find, of
course, the same qualities that we studied in her youth,
but amplified, enriched, and balanced by the full develop-
ment of maturity and a broader contact with the world.
And first, the wife and mother and housekeeper. It
must be admitted that Mrs. Ripley's natural tastes did
not lie in this direction. All the more notable is it that
she was as admirable and successful here as in more
abstract and ambitious pursuits. She herself recognizes
amply that in giving up her cherished Interests for a life
of active usefulness she had found gain as well as loss.
50 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
" I once thought a solitary Hf e the true one, and, contrary
to my theory, was moved to give up the independence
of an attic covered with books for the responsibiUties
and perplexities of a parish and a family. Yet I have
never regretted the change. Though I have suffered
much, yet I have enjoyed much and learned more," And
housekeeping for her meant, not a ladylike supervision,
but hard, perpetual labor. She rarely had a servant,
she had many children, she had large social obligations,
and for years she had the needs of a boys' school to
provide for. Whatever her life lacked, it was not ac-
tivity. The fret, the wear, the burden of all these cares
she undoubtedly felt, especially as her health was never
of the best. Sometimes she longed unutterably to be
free and quiet. But she never complained, she never
grew sour or querulous. Says one who knew her and
loved her: "In all the annoyances of an overtaxed life
I never saw her temper touched. She did not know
resentment; she seemed always living in a sphere far
above us all, yet in perfect sympathy."
As a wife and mother she did her full duty as if it
were a pleasure. The affection, almost devotion, with
which her husband speaks of her is sufficient evidence
as to her relation to him. I have already said that she
did not depend upon her children for amusement; but
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 51
she watched over them and entered into their lives as
only her intelligence could. Her methods of training
and education v^ere those of sympathy and kindness, and
better testimony to their success could not be afforded
than the noble qualities and eminent usefulness of her
sons and daughters.
No account of these middle years of Mrs. Ripley's
life would be complete without an analysis of her con-
tact with the world, with her fellow men and women.
In one way her career was an isolated, or at least a lim-
ited, one. She never traveled, knew nothing even of her
own country outside the circle of her immediate sur-
roundings. Books and talk, however, gave her a far
wider knowledge of mankind than this would promise.
And, though she did not go to the world, the world came
to her. Her father's houses in Boston and Duxbury were
always open to friends and neighbors, and during her
husband's long ministration in his Waltham parish, she
kept up a hospitality which never failed or weakened.
All sorts of people were welcomed In her parlor, and if
her thoughts were often called away to other higher or
lower cares, she did not show it and her visitors never
This is not saying that her duties were not some-
times irksome. Occasionally, in her most intimate cor-
52 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
respondence, she rebelled and uttered what she felt. " I
would there were any hole to creep out of this most
servile of all situations, a country clergyman's wife.
Oh, the insupportable fatigue of affected sympathy with
ordinary and vulgar minds." Yet an impatience like
this was but momentary, and! was in no way incompati-
ble with the social charm which I have already indicated
in Mrs. Ripley's youth, and which continued and in-
creased with age. She certainly did not seek society, in
fact preferred the multitudinous solitude of her own
thoughts; but neither did she avoid her fellows, and
when with them she had always the supreme attraction
of being wholly and perfectly herself. There was no
affectation, no convention in her manners or in her talk.
She said what she thought, and, as her thoughts were
wide, abundant, and original, her conversation could
not fail to be stimulating. She was, indeed, more inter-
ested in the thoughts of others than in her own, and
never permitted herself to be burdened with the demands
of making talk where there was none.
The shyness of early years persisted in the form of
quiet self-effacement. In the words of one who knew
her well, " Without being precisely shy, she often gave
one the impression of an unobtrusive, yet extreme solici-
tude to be in nobody's way." And this is not the worst
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 53
of social qualities. It must not, however, in Mrs. Rip-
ley's case, suggest dullness. When she did speak, it
was with the ease and the fertility of a full soul. To
Dr. Hedge it seemed that she had "an attraction pro-
ceeding from no personal charms, but due to the aston-
ishing vivacity, the all-aliveness, of her presence, which
made it impossible to imagine her otherwise than wide-
awake and active in word or work."
Yet even so, I have not quite portrayed the singular
candor and impersonality of Mrs. Ripley's spirit. Her
lower self did not exist for her; that is, she left it to
regulate its doings by an exquisite instinct, without
cumbering her soul with it. When her friends, in jest,
engaged her in speculative talk and then put a broom in
her hands and asked her to carry it across Boston Com-
mon, she did it quite without thought. In the same way,
she carried her own external, social person through life,
bearing it with the flawless and unfailing dignity that
belonged to high preoccupations, and so making contact
with her one of the privileges and delights of all she
Among the activities of Mrs. Ripley's prime none is
more illustrative of her character than her teaching.
She taught boys for many years, sometimes as an assist-
ant in her husband's boarding-school, or again simply
54 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
taking pupils to tutor in her own house. I find very
little evidence that she enjoyed the work. Of course,
there was the rare pleasure of really waking up a soul,
knowing and seeing that you have done so. But the
teacher was too self-distrustful to take much credit,
even in such cases. She hated all responsibility —
how much, then, the responsibility of a young life.
She hated drudgery, of body or soul, though her whole
long existence was made up of it. And whatever
pleasure there may be in teaching, few will deny that
there is drudgery also. Especially she hated (discipline,
believed at least that she had no faculty for it, and
refused to practice it in any harsher sense. It is said
that, as she sat in her teacher's chair, she knitted assid-
uously and purposely, so that small infractions of pro-
priety might escape her notice. It is said, also, that
when such things were forced upon her, she made no
comment at the time, but afterwards wrote gentle, plead-
ing notes to the culprits, which never failed of their
For, whatever she may have felt herself, her pupils
thought her eminently successful as a teacher. They
learned from her, they obeyed her, they admired her,
they loved her. No one affords better evidence than she
that the stimulus of the soul goes further than the stim-
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 55
ulus of the rod. Most of her boys were rich, idle fellows,
who had been suspended from college or had never been
able to get there. Such hearts are not always bad, but
you have got to touch them to help them. On this point I
do not know that I can quote better testimony than that
of Senator Hoar. He says of the pupils who came to
her from college: "She would keep them along in all
their studies, in most cases better instructed than the}r
would have been if they had stayed in Cambridge. I
remember her now with the strongest feelings of rever-
ence, affection, and gratitude. In that I say only what
every other pupil of hers would say. I do not think she
ever knew how much her boys loved her."
I cannot leave Mrs. Ripley's teaching and practical
usefulness better than with the pathos of that last
There is no 3oubt that the chief interest of Mrs.
Ripley's best years, as of her youth, is in her intellectual
preoccupations. It is true that she theoretically sub-
ordinates such preoccupations to useful action, but her
very words in doing this show her attitude. "I sym-
pathize much with your tranquil enjoyment in study.
There is no enjoyment like it, except perhaps disinter-
56 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
ested action ; but all action is disturbing, because one is
constantly limited and annoyed by others." So, in spite
of the immense activity that was forced upon her by
her choice of life and her surroundings, she persisted
day after day and year after year in grasping more
firmly and more zealously the things of the spirit.
Sometimes, indeed, the difficulties were so great that
even her courage faltered. " I begin to think we must
either live for earth or heaven, that there is no such
thing as living for both at the same time."
Her health was uncertain; her time was broken, till
there seemed nothing left of it; those about her would
call her attention to petty details and trifling matters,
world removed from the high thoughts she loved to
linger with. It made no difference. The persistence —
call it obstinacy — which others expended upon social
success, upon worldly profit, upon mere immediate
pleasure, she devoted wholly to books, to study, to vaster
acquisition of varied knowledge ; and somehow or other
she knit up the flying minutes, which many would have
wasted, into connected hours of profitable toil.
Note that this spiritual effort was given to intel-
lectual interests pure and simple. Mrs. Ripley had never
any great love for the aesthetic side of life. Music, unless
as a matter of analytical study, made little appeal to her.
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 57
Art made almost none. " I am not sufficiently initiated
into the mysteries of art to admire the right things,"
she says. Even in poetry her tastes were narrowly
limited. The Classics she read because they were the
Classics. To the moderns she gave little attention and
less care. So with contemporary events. They passed
her by almost unnoticed. Her whole thought was given
to the eternal.
Note also that she did not study, to make a parade of
it. She was as far as possible from a pedant in her
speech as in her thought. She had no desire whatever
to give instruction, simply to get it. Nor did literary
ambition enter at all into her enthusiasm. She never
wrote, had probably no great gift for formal writing.
Her one inspiring passion, from youth to age, was to
use every power she had in making just a little more
progress into the vast, shadowy regions of obtainable
As I have already pointed out in connection with her
young days, her intellectual appetite was universal in
its scope. It almost seemed as if she did not care upon
what she used her mind, so long as she used it. The
truth was, that every study was so delightful that choice
was hardly necessary. Language? All languages fas-
cinated her, and she grasped eagerly at every one that
58 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
came within her reach. The ethereal flights of pure
mathematics and astronomy might have absorbed her
altogether, had it not been that chemistry and botany
offered attractions so perpetually and variously allur-
ing. The close contemporary of Thoreau, she had none
of his imaginative interpretation of the natural world;
but it is doubtful whether his actual knowledge of plants
and trees was more exact than hers.
On the whole, it must be said, however, that her chief
interest was in philosophy and abstract thought. The
intense preoccupation with heaven and hell which beset
every New England childhood in those days, turned,
with her, as with so many others, into a close and keen
analysis of where heaven and hell came from — and
where they had gone to. She read the Greek and the
English and the German philosophers and meditated
upon them, with the result of a complete, profound, and
all-involving intellectual scepticism. Observe that this
scepticism was individual, not general. She was no dog-
matic agnostic, no blatant unbeliever; above all, she
abhorred the thought of leading any other astray. She
was simply a humble, gentle, reverent seeker, ever anx-
ious to know whether any one had found the light, but
irrevocably determined to accept no false gleam, no
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 59
Even in face of the greatest mystery of all she would
express only a deep resignation, making no pretense to
a confidence she could not feel. " Death is an event as
natural as birth, and faith makes it as full of promise.
But faith is denied to certain minds, and submission
must take its place. The Unknown, which lighted the
morning of life, will hallow and make serene its evening.
Conscious or unconscious, we shall rest in the lap of the
Infinite. Enough of this. Let us live while we live, and
snatch each fleeting moment of truth and love and
It may easily be maintained that Mrs. Ripley carried
intellectual sincerity too far. She was so conscientious
that she made a dogma, and finally even a duty, of doubt.
She too often overlooked the blessed privilege of thor-
ough scepticism, which is that it leaves hope as permissi-
ble as despair. Yet such singular, lucid, unfailing de-
votion to pure truth is highly notable in any one. I do
not know whether a man may be forgiven for assuming
that it is especially notable in a woman.
It is in this connection that I find a peculiar interest
in Mrs. Ripley's intimacy with her nephew by marriage,
— Emerson. It would seem as if the two must have been
an infinite source of stimulus and solace to each other.
That there was always the deepest afifection and respect
6o PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
between them is perfectly evident. When Mrs. Ripley
refers to Waldo in her earlier letters, it is as to a spirit
inspired and almost super-earthly. And in her old age
she writes of his absence, " I miss my guide and support
in many ways." Emerson's tone is no less enthusiastic,
not only in the eulogy of his friend, published soon after
her death, but in many passages of his " Journal."
Yet, with all this, one is rather surprised to note that
the two seem to see little of each other, do not seek in
each other's society that constant sympathy that one
would think they would have found there. The truth
is, their ways of looking at life were radically different.
Mrs. Ripley records a conversation between them in
which she remarked that "the soul's serenity was at
best nothing more than resignation to what could not be
helped"; and Emerson rejoined: "Oh, no, not resigna-
tion, aspiration is the soul's true state! What have we
knees for, what have we hands for? Peace is victory."
This difference of attitude peeps out slyly in a touch
here and there in Mrs. Ripley's letters. It is glaringly
marked in the study of her, printed at large in the sixth
volume of Emerson's "Journal." He does, indeed, re-
peat, with entire sincerity, much of his former praise.
But he adds these somewhat harsh comments: "She
would pardon any vice in another which did not obscure
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 6i
his intellect or deform him as a companion. She knows
perfectly well what is right and wrong, but it is not from
conscience that she acts, but from sense of propriety, in
the absence, too, of all motives to vice. She has not a
profound mind^ but her faculties are very muscular, and
she is endowed with a certain restless and impatient
temperament, which drives her to the pursuit of knowl-
edge, not so much for the value of the knowledge, but for
some rope to twist, some grist to her mill."
Few spiritual touches could be more instructive than
this conflict of minds so akin in many interests and so
closely thrown together. A certain justice in Emer-
son's complaints is undeniable. Mrs. Ripley's was in no
way a creative, original intelligence. She knew that it
was not, and perhaps we may say, did not wish it to be.
Her mental activity does at times appear an effort at
diversion and distraction, rather than a passionate
struggle toward the ultimate ends of thought. Yet it is
hard to be satisfied with Emerson's criticism, when one
reads passages like the following : " Religion has become
so simple a matter to me — a yearning after God, an
earnest desire for the peace that flows from the con-
sciousness of union with Him. It is the last thought that
floats through my mind as I sleep, the first that comes
when I wake. It forms the basis of my present life,
62 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
saddened by past experience. It bedims my eyes with
tears when I walk out into the beautiful nature where
love is all around me. And yet no direct ray comes to
The true cause of the difference between Mrs. Rip-
ley and Emerson was that her unconquerable, uncom-
promising dread of illusion did not suit his persistent
and somewhat willful optimism. The lucid shafts of
her penetrating intelligence drove right through his
gorgeous cloud-fabric. Doubtless she listened to his
golden visions with the profoundest attention and re-
spect. But she was ten years older than he; she had
known him as a boy and from boyhood, and she read
the boy in the man and the angel, and he knew she did.
I have no direct evidence whatever, but I am inclined
to suspect that she regarded those eager pages, peppered
with capitalized abstractions, as Waldo's pretty play-
things, which amused Waldo and could hurt nobody.
Emerson's verdict on Mrs. Ripley's moral character
also, if not unjust, is misleading. It might naturally be
expected that scepticism so complete would have some
moral effects; but in this case those mainly perceptible
are a divine gentleness and tolerance. Theoretical dis-
beHef is apt to blight action. But action was so forced
upon Mrs. Ripley all her life, that she could neither
SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY 63
shun it nor neglect it. As to her moral instincts, Emer-
son himself indicates their sureness and delicacy. They
never failed her in any connection. It was far more
than a negative correctness of conduct. It was the most
subtle and pervading sympathy with purity, holiness,
and sacrifice, wherever they might be found. Above
all, there was in her letters as in her life — and this
Emerson fully recognizes — a singular tenderness, a
pervading grace of comprehension, that endeared her
to all who knew her. And hers is the saying, notable in
one who so greatly prized all honesty and veracity.
"The law of love is higher than the law of truth." In
short, it may well be said that she believed in nothing
but goodness, kindliness, the dignity of virtue and the
unfailing delight of the pursuit of knowledge. Even as
to these things she sometimes doubted, though they were
clamped with iron tenacity to the inmost fiber of her
soul, as to the existence of which she doubted also.
But, however great the charm of Mrs. Ripley's pure
and saintly external life, the chief interest of her char-
acter, and of her example, must always lie in her ex-
traordinary devotion to intellectual matters. It is to be
observed that from her early childhood to her age this de-
votion was absolutely disinterested. Most men who make
a business of study combine it with some ulterior object.
64 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
either professional success, or financial profit, or the
glory of literary achievement or of scientific discovery.
This woman never entertained the slightest suggestion
of such advantage. With her there was but one aim, —
the pure exercise of thought for itself, the perpetual
probing a little deeper and a little deeper and a little
deeper into the vast, elusive mystery of existence. Such
a tremendous and unceasing voyage of discovery car-
ried its own triumph and its own satisfaction with it, and
its resources of desire and delight were as varied as
they were inexhaustible.
In Pater's "Imaginary Portrait,'* Sebastian van
Storck says to his mother, "Good mother, there are
duties towards the intellect also, which women can but
rarely understand." No man ever understood those
duties to the intellect better than this woman understood
Bom in Buckland, Massachusetts, February 28, 1797.
Mount Holyoke Seminary opened November, 1837.
Died March 5, 1849.
Mary Lyon, the foundress of Mount Holyoke College,
had a magnificently persistent spirit. She did what
she set out to do and got what she wanted to get. No
doubt the grit and determination in her were fostered,
if not bred, by the sturdy, rugged training of her child-
hood. Born at the very close of the eighteenth cen-
tury, on a farm In western Massachusetts, she was
brought up by a widowed mother with many children
and small means. The discipline was stern, but it rooted
character deep down among the solid needs and essen-
tial efforts of existence. Every moment of life was of
use and was put to use. When Mary was hardly out
of infancy, her mother found her one day apparently
trifling with the hourglass, but she explained that she
thought she had discovered a way of making more
time.^ As years went on, she did make more time, by
getting double work and thought into what there was.
It was not time only; but every resource of life must
be made to yield all there was in it and a little more.
68 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
"Economy," she said to her pupils later, "is not
always doing without things. It is making them do the
best they can." ^ Nothing helps so much towards this
final extraction of utility as knowing the exact nature
of things, not only what they serve for, but how they
are made, even knowing how to make them one's self.
Mary made her own clothes from cloth made by her
own hands. Many other women did this; but Mary,
when she lived near a brickyard, wanted to make brick,
and did it. Always she had the instinct and the habit
and the genius for doing something.
Very early, however, she appreciated that to do some-
thing, in her sense, a wider and ampler education was
needed than a New England farm would give her. The
most essential education — that of character — she could
indeed give herself. Self-training, self-discipline, she
began early and kept up to the end. When a friend
ventured to suggest the getting rid of certain little awk-
wardnesses, she replied, with perfect good humor, "I
have corrected more such things than anybody ought
to have." ^ She corrected little defects as well as great.
But no one knew better than she that education
could not come wholly from within. There were broad
regions of spiritual joy and spiritual usefulness which
must be explored by the help and the guidance of others.
MARY LYON 69
The means of obtaining such help and guidance for
women in those days were Hmited, and Mary's situa-
tion and circumstances made them doubly limited for
her. But what persistent and determined effort could
do, she did. Her natural capacity for acquisition was
undoubtedly great. She said of herself, in a connec-
tion that precluded boasting, "My mind runs like
lightning."^ It not only moved swiftly, but it held
what it seized as it went. She was given a Latin gram-
mar on Friday night. On Monday she recited the
whole of it. I do not know how much this means, not
having seen the grammar; but obviously it means
enough, even with her humiliating confession that she
had studied all day Sunday.
In her case, however, it was less the brilliancy than
the everlasting persistence that counted. She had no
money to get an education. Very well, she would get
the money first and the education afterward. She went
to school when she could ; when she could not, she taught
others — for seventy-five cents a week and her board.
The opportunities that she did get for her own work
she improved mightily. Those with whom she boarded
when she was studying say that she slept only four
hours out of the twenty-four. They add, with the
amazement which persons differently constituted feel
70 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
for such endeavor : " She is all intellect : she does not
know that she has a body to care for." ^
But do not imagine that she was a mere human
machine, created to think of work only. She had her
ups and downs, as those who sleep only four hours must
— her days when work seemed impossible and, what is
worse, not worth doing; her utter discouragements,
when the only relief was tears. She inquired one night
how soon tea would be ready; was told, immediately;
and on being asked the reason of her evident disap-
pointment, replied : " I was only wishing to have a good
crying-spell, and you could not give me time enough." ®
How far other emotions touched her active youth we
do not know. She was always sweet and merry with
her companions, but she had not leisure for much social
dissipation. One or two vague glimpses come of lov-
ing or, much more, of being loved, but they lead to
nothing. Other interests more absorbing filled that
eager and busy heart. As she looked back from later
triumphs at the struggles of these early days, she said:
"In my youth I had much vigor — was always aspiring
after something. I called it loving to study. Had few
to direct me aright. One teacher I shall always re-
member. He told me education was to fit one to do
MARY LYON 71
Whatever education might be, she sought it with a
fervent zeal which was an end in itself as well as a
most efficient means.
To get an education for herself, with heroic effort, was
not enough for Miss Lyon. In getting it, she came to
feel its value and others' need of it. Obtaining it for
them was an object for as much zeal and devotion as
she had bestowed upon her own. No one then felt it
necessary that women should be educated as men were.
Men, whether educated themselves or not, felt it to be
distinctly unnecessary; and the suggestion of system-
atic intellectual training for the weaker, domestic sex
did not fill the ordinary husband and father with en-
thusiasm. A fashionable finishing school was a girl's
highest ambition, and to be accomplished, pending being
married, was the chief aim of her existence. To Miss
Lyon it seemed that women had brains as well as men,
were as well able to use them, and often more eager.
And she determined very early to devote her life to
giving them the opportunity.
Her object was certainly not money-making. Her
personal standards were always simple, and her earn-
ings, when she did earn, would seem, even to the mod-
72 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
ern teacher, pitiful. In fact, her view of profit and the
teacher's profession, like that of Socrates, was ideal
to the point of extravagance. "If money-making is
your object," she cries, "be milliners or dressmakers;
but teaching is a sacred, not a mercenary employment." ^
So with the ambition to be great and prominent and
remembered. Who shall say that any one is wholly
free from the subtle and searching temptation here?
But at least she is free from it so far as she knows
herself. Some, she writes, will say that Miss Grant and
Miss Lyon wish to have " a great institution established,
and to see themselves at the head of the whole, and
then they will be satisfied."® And she recognizes that
this is human nature, and she does not trouble herself
to deny the allegation directly, but her tone implies that
it touches her not.
Nor did she seek to be of use to those who had wealth
or social prominence or influence. They could take care
of themselves. What she wished to provide for was
the great mass of women throughout the country who
had little means or none, but the same devouring thirst
for better things that had tormented her. She would
exclude no one who was really worthy, no one, as she
said herself, but "harmless cumberers of the ground"
and those "whose highest ambition is to be qualified to
MARY LYON 73
amuse a friend in a vacant hour." ^^ Such, rich or poor,
might find their vocation elsewhere. The saving of their
souls was not her business.
So, trusting in the goodness of God and in her own
unbounded energy, she set about taking a great step
in the forward progress of the world. She was prac-
tically unknown; she had no money; she had no in-
fluence, she had no access to the many agencies which
facilitate the advancement of great undertakings. She
had only courage and hope. "When we decide that it
is best to perform a certain duty, we should expect suc-
cess in it, if it is not utterly impossible," ^^ she said
quietly; and she practiced as she preached. She was
ready to make any sacrifice. "Our personal comforts
are delightful, not essential." ^^
She approached every one who could possibly help
her, with tireless, but not tedious, persistency. She
went into people's homes and pointed out what she was
trying to do for them, showed fathers and mothers
what their daughters needed and how little effort would
help to get it.
She spoke publicly on formal occasions; she spoke
privately to any one who she thought might assist her,
even to strangers. Some of her friends complained of
this. In that day it seemed odd for a woman to make
74 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
herself so conspicuous, and the doubters feared that she
might injure her cause instead of aiding it. She dif-
fered from them positively. "What do I do that is
wrong?" she urged. "I hope I behave like a lady; I
mean to do so." Who that knows anything of her will
question that she did? But she was working for a great
cause and she did not mean to let trifles stand in her
way. " My heatrt is sick," she cried; "my soul is pained
with this empty gentility, this genteel nothingness. I am
doing a great work. I cannot come down." ^^
Of course there were discouragements, crying spells,
no doubt, as in the earlier days; times when everything
went wrong, and the world seemed utterly indifferent.
The very vastness of the hope made it shadowy, and
she had her lurking possibilities of scepticism. "I
always fear when I find my heart thus clinging to the
hope of future good."" There was physical collapse,
too, under such enormous effort, even in a body mainly
healthy. For two or three days, sometimes, she would
give herself up to a state of partial stupor, forgetting
even hope and duty in an absolute relaxation of all
Then she would emerge, with fatigue and depression
behind her, ready to face any difficulty and overcome
any obstacle. " It is one of the nicest of mental opera-
MARY LYON 75
tions," she said, "to distinguish between what is very-
difficult and what is utterly impossible." ^^ But what
was impossible to others was apparently only difficult
to her. Walls hardly built and hardly paid for might
fall down, and her only comment was one of delight
that no one was hurt. Stupid and obstinate people
might oppose her methods, but somehow or other she
accomplished the result. "She made the impression
on every one with whom she had anything to do, from
the common day-laborer to the president of a college,
that if she set herself to do anything, it was of no use
to oppose her." ^^
This does not mean that she was rough or overbear-
ing in her methods, that she forced money out of
pockets, or souls into the kingdom of God. She had,
indeed, her share of the prophet's severity. If she had
let herself go, she might have reprehended and repri-
manded with a righteous scorn. In one wealthy house-
hold, where she had expected much, she got nothing,
and to friends who had foretold her failure she con-
fided, with bitterness: "They live in a costly house; it
is full of costly things; they wear costly clothes, but
oh, they're little bits of folks !"^^
Such bitterness she mainly kept to herself, however.
She knew that her progress must be slow, often hin-
76 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
dered, and often tortuous. She disciplined herself not
to hope too much and to forget disappointments. She
practiced infinite patience. " I learned twenty years ago
never to get out of patience." ^^ She would not dispute
or argue. She would state her position, her plans, her
prospects. She would answer every question which
really tended to clarify. Then the conscience of her
hearers was left to work by itself. Attacks, abuse, sar-
casm, slander, touched her not. She did not deserve
them, why should she heed them? They distressed her
friends, and one of the closest. Professor Hitchcock,
wrote an answer which he submitted to Miss Lyon's
consideration. "That was the last I ever saw of it,"
Instead of this sharper combativeness, she worked
by persuasion, by insinuation, by tact and sympathy.
She would not yield a syllable of her main theory; but
if anything was to be gained by meeting criticism in a
detail, by accepting a minor suggestion, she was always
ready. "In deviating from others," she advised, "be
as inoffensive as possible; excite no needless opposi-
tion"^^ She excited none, where it could be avoided,
and people found themselves agreeing with her before
they knew it, and almost against their will. She con-
quered less by formal argument than by personal charm,
MARY LYON yy
and had the golden faculty of making others feel that
her will was their own. One who knew her well said
that she held men "by invisible attractions which it
was hard to resist and from which very few wished to
be released." ^* Another simpler mind put it still better :
" I would have done anything she asked me to. Every-
body would." ^^
The habit of getting what she wanted from others
came naturally. That of making use of what she got,
perhaps somewhat less so. She had to train herself a
little in business methods. This a clear and sound
brain can always do, and she did it. But order and
system and punctuality seem at first to have been diffi-
cult for her. She was not born neat and tidy in trifles.
Some women's things, she said, seemed to have feet
and to know their right places and return to them of
their own accord. Hers did not. She was not born
punctual or with a consciousness of time. If she got
interested in a task, she wanted to finish it, regardless
of the arrival of the hour for doing something else.
She wanted to go to bed when she pleased, to get up
when she pleased; not at a set and given minute.
But she understood these weaknesses, and had con-
quered them in all essentials, before she entered upon
her great work. If she was not born a woman of busi-
78 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
ness, she made herself one, and she had overcome inner
obstacles before she began her fight with those with-
out. Therefore she was able, not only to raise the
sums she needed, but to use them wisely; and, after
innumerable difficulties, in the autumn of 1837, Mount
Holyoke Seminary was opened.
It was a day of triumph for Miss Lyon — of pure,
personal triumph, of course it was. She would not have
been human if it had not been. She had labored through
years of toil and vexation. Now at last the way was
clear to accomplish what she had dreamed. Of an
earlier time of prosperity she says: "There is an un-
usual evenness and uniformity in my feelings, freedom
from excitement, or any rising above the common
level." ^^ But on that November day in 1837 her spirits
certainly did rise above the common level. She saw
all that she had longed for and hoped for realized in
that plain, square building with its vast possibilities,
and her words have the inspiration of a prophetess:
"The stones and brick and mortar speak a language
which vibrates through my very soul."^^
So she had performed her huge task, her practically
single-handed task, of preparing the material facilities
MARY LYON 79
for extending education. Now came the subtle and
complicated labor of conveying it. And first as to the
negative problem, so to speak, that of discipline. This
considerable body of girls had been brought together,
unaccustomed to the restraints of community life. How
to train them to do their best work without injuring
themselves or each other?
To begin with, Miss Lyon did not believe too much
in formal rules. Of course a certain number of such
rules was necessary, as always. But she endeavored
to impress upon her girls the spirit of those rules and
not the letter. She brought home to them vividly the
struggle between the body and the mind, and the ab-
solute necessity of making the mind master at the start.
"The mind," she told them, "should not sit down and
wash the body's feet, but the body should obey the
So in relations with others. It was not so much a
question of following rules as of getting into the right
tone. " Avoid trying the patience or irritating the feel-
ings of others," ^^ she reminded them. She made her pre-
cise directions flow from such general precepts as these.
Then she trusted the girls to carry them out. Of
course, they could not always be trusted, and she knew
that they could not. They were human and young and
8o PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
girls, and had their weaknesses. Dress and boys were
in their thoughts, as they always have been and always
will be. But something about Miss Lyon's presence
took the place of rules — something about the thought
of her presence. " One could not do wrong where she
was," ^^ writes one pupil. There were occasionally those
who could do wrong and did, either from carelessness
or even from contumacy. With them Miss Lyon had
such vigor as was needed. Read the quaint old biog-
rapher's account of the forcible removal of one young
woman from one room to another : " ' You must go into
the large room,' said the teacher." The young woman
But usually the reliance was less upon coercion than
upon persuasion. "She will try to make us vote so-
and-so, and I won't vote that way — I won't," ^^ said one
recalcitrant to another as they prepared to listen to her
gentle exhortation. Then they voted as she wished.
Above all, her discipline was dynamic, consisted in instill-
ing a bewitching impluse to do things, not to avoid things.
"Our happiness lies largely in remembering," she said;
"do what will be pleasant to remember." And what-
ever you do, put life into it. Do not half do, or do
negligently. "Learn to sit with energy." ^^ Did ever
any one put more character into a phrase than that ?
MARY LYON 8i
And as they were taught energy, so they were taught
the use of it by order and method. Hours should be
planned and kept and followed. "I have suffered all
my life from the want of regular habits," she told her
girls; "I wish you to accustom yourselves to be thor-
oughly systematic in the division of your time and
duties." ^^ Train and discipline the mind, she urged
upon them, govern your thoughts. "Bring the mind
to a perfect abstraction and let thought after thought
pass through it."^^
She herself was ardent, full of emotion, full of im-
pulse. "I endeavor daily to avoid excessive emotions
on any subject," ^^ she says. She was not always suc-
cessful, and admitted it; but she wanted those who
learned from her to be better than she. Even in giv-
ing, in charity, which meant so much to her, she
advised restraint and intelligence. "If you had really
rather spend your money on yourselves, spend it." Do
not overdo from the impulse of the moment. "I don't
want artificial fire."^* In short, she was as anxious
to make progress solid and sure as to establish it upon
an undying enthusiasm. "Character," she told those
incorrigible workers of samplers, "like embroidery, is
made stitch by stitch." ^^
From all this you gather perhaps an impression of
82 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
pedantry, of formal priggishness. It is true that, as
we look back from the familiarity of to-day. Miss Lyon's
methods and manners sometimes seem stiff, like her
caps. Her girls to her were always "young ladies,"
as their contemporaries of the other sex were "young
gentlemen." Her phraseology was elaborate, and she
wished others to use the same. In her portraits one
perceives a certain primness, and the undeniable beauty
has also an undeniable suggestion of austerity. If haste
made her sometimes forget to fasten a button or adjust
a tie, one imagines her upon any state occasion as com-
plete in her dignity as Queen Elizabeth herself.
But brief study suffices to penetrate beneath this
superficial stiffness and form. "It is very important
a teacher should not be schoolified," ^^ said Miss Lyon
to her pupils.
Many teachers say this, not so many practice it. She
did. Under the formal garb and manner, she was es-
sentially human. In the first place, she had the keen-
est insight into human strength and weakness. She
knew the heart, or at least knew that none of us know
it, and was ever alive to opportunities to increase her
knowledge. In one case she comments with the keenest
analysis upon the weaknesses of a relative, and then
apologizes for doing so; "only I love to remark the
MARY LYON 83
extreme unlikeness in members of the same family." ^^
In general, the good qualities impress her most, though
she notes this with due reserve: "On the whole, as I
grow in years, I have a better opinion of people." ^^
But her humanity went far deeper than mere obser-
vation and insight. Under the formal outside there was
the most sensitive affection and tenderness. She loved
her pupils as if they were her daughters, felt as if she
must supply the mother's place to every one of them.
"You are spoiling that child," said her teachers, of
one whom she petted, though she never really showed
any favoritism. Her answer was : " Well, she is young
and far from her mother, and I am sorry for her, and
I don't believe it will hurt her." ^^
This was only one instance out of many. When girls
were solitary and homesick and weary and discour-
aged, she could and did sympathize, for she had known
all those things herself and went back readily to the
days when she had said that she had " but just physical
strength enough left to bear her home, just intellect
enough to think the very small thoughts of a little
infant, and just emotion enough to tremble under the
In short, she had the supreme element of sympathy,
the power of always putting one's self in the place of
84 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
another. Nothing can be of greater help to a teacher
or to any leader of men or women than this, and saying
after saying of Miss Lyon's shows how richly she was
endowed with it. The brief remarks and comments
gathered at the end of Miss Fidelia Fiske's quaint little
volume of "Recollections" are the best illustration of
what I mean. " More than nine tenths of the suffering
we endure is because those around us do not show that
regard for us which we think they ought to."/* This
bit of wisdom, curiously exaggerated for a thinker so
careful as Miss Lyon, is as interesting for what it sug-
gests about herself as about her study and comprehen-
sion of others.
With the sympathetic and imaginative power of put-
ting one's self in the place of others is apt to go a large
and fine sense of humor. Had Miss Lyon this? It is
amusing to see how answers vary. Some of the numer-
ous pupils who have written reminiscences of her insist
that she had no humor at all, that she rarely, if ever,
smiled, and took life always from the serious side.
Others are equally positive that she was ready for a
jest, and on occasion could twinkle with merriment.
The explanation of these conflicting views probably is
that she was very different with different people. Some
persons have the faculty of cherishing the warm flame
MARY LYON 85
o£ humor, of teasing even fretted spirits into bright and
gracious gayety. Others put out that pleasant flame as
a snuffer puts out a candle. I have known pupils of
Miss Lyon with whom I am sure that she was always
as serious as the bird of Pallas.
Then, too, she was brought up in an age that re-
strained laughter. As a teacher, she knew the danger
of satire, and herself admitted that she had to be on
her guard against her appreciation of the ludicrous,
lest she should do irreparable damage to sensitive hearts.
Moreover, the Puritan strain was strong in her and
she shied at any suggestion of uncontrolled gayety for
herself or those she guided. " It is not true," insists an
admiring pupil, "that Miss Lyon enjoyed /zw.' . . . *Fun,'
she said, ' is a word no young lady should use.' " ^^
Yet I dare swear that she enjoyed fun just the same;
that she could see a joke, and take and make a joke.
One would certainly not say of her, in the dainty phrase
of the old poet, —
"Her heart was full of jigs and her feet did wander
Even as autumn's dust."
But, at any rate in youth, before care settled too
heavily, she was capable of full-lunged, resounding
cachinnation. "Mr. Pomeroy's father has heard Miss
Lyon, when a girl, laugh half a mile away, from one
86 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
hill to another. Once she laughed so loud she scared
the colts in the field and made them run away." ^*
Now, isn't that jolly? In later years she did not,
indeed, scare the colts or the coltish young ladies, but
there can be no doubt that large possibilities of spiritual
laughter lightened the troubles and vexations that
were inseparable from her triumph. To be sure, she
sometimes fell into strange freaks of professional sol-
emnity, such as seem quite inconsistent with any sense
of humor at all, as when she cautioned her young
ladies: "The violation of the seventh commandment
may and ought to be examined as a general subject,
but beware of learning particulars";** or again:
" Choose the society of such gentlemen as will converse
without even once seeming to think that you are a
lady."*^ But I believe the winking of an eye would
have made her see the humorous slant of these sug-
gestions. She saw it in regard to many others, and
especially in regard to that most delicate of humorous
t( sts, the absurdity of one's self. Is there not a depth
of humor in her overheard remark, as she stood before
the mirror trying to tie her bonnet-strings: "Well, I
inay fail of heaven, but I shall be very much disap-
pointed if I do — very much disappointed."*^
All this analysis of Miss Lyon's educational influ-
MARY LYON 87
ence, her discipline, her method, her sympathy, her
laughter, does not catch the entire depth and power
of it. We must add the magnetism, the gift of inspira-
tion. She could draw money out of men's pockets ; she
could draw folly out of girls' souls and put thought
and earnest effort in its place. Never give up, she
taught them; never submit, never be beaten. "Teach
till you make a success of it."'*'^ Live with high ideas,
she taught them; make noble dreams noble realities.
" Our thoughts have the same effect on us as the com-
pany we keep."^^ When you have a great object in
view, let no obstacle, no difficulty, distract you from it.
" Go where no one else is willing to go ; do what no one
else is willing to do." *^
And she herself never forgot the greatest test of
teaching; did her best to keep it before all who assisted
her and worked under her. " Make the dull ones think
once a day, make their eyes sparkle once a day."^*' The
teacher who can do this has indeed magnetism, has in-
spiration. She did it, perhaps many times a day.
It is interesting that the enthusiasm of scholarship
proper is not a marked element in Miss Lyon. She
had an immense desire to educate herself; later, an im-
88 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
mense desire to educate others. It does not appear
that in youth or in age she was overpowered by the
passion for acquiring* knowledge as an end merely.
Now and then she has words that seem to belie this.
" There are peculiar sweets derived from gaining knowl-
edge, delights known only to those who have tested
them,"^^ she says. She pursued all varieties of study
with equal ardor. Mathematics, logic, science, litera-
ture, — she was at home in all, delighted to talk about
them, delighted to teach them. But you feel instantly
the difference between her and, for example, Mrs.
Samuel Ripley, in this regard. Mrs. Ripley followed
all studies because they were all in themselves equally
delightful. Miss Lyon followed them all because they
were all, comparatively speaking, indifferent. To Mrs.
Ripley knowledge was an end in itself, an all-sufficing,
inexhaustible end. To Miss Lyon knowledge was only
a beginning. Mathematics and all the rest were bright,
sharp, splendid instruments. The first thing was to get
them; but an infinitely more important thing was what
you could do with them. What a significant, if uninten-
tional, revelation there is in the phrase I have already
quoted (italics mine) : "In my youth I had much vigor
— was always aspiring after something. / called it
loving to study.'" ^^ What scorn there is in another
MARY LYON 89
brief phrase of her later years : " The intellectual miser
is an object of contempt." ^^
No, she was not essentially a scholar ; she could never
have been content to spend long hours and long years
over books and the problems of books. She was essen-
tially and by every instinct a teacher. And her object
in teaching was not to make other scholars. In all the
great volume of "Reminiscences" contributed by her
pupils, pure scholarship fills but a very little place.
What she aimed at was to teach girls, not to know,
but to live. It is true, her biographer says that in her
early years of teaching her great aim was to make
scholars. But even so, I think she was anxious rather
to succeed in anything she had undertaken than to im-
part the fine fury of intellectual acquirement.
And as time went on, the mere lore of books took a
more and more subordinate place. Life was to be
studied, character was to be studied, all the curious,
subtle, surrounding and moulding influences that govern
our existence. "Make as much effort to gain knowl-
edge from objects around us, from passing events, and
from conversation, as from books." ^^ She labored hard
and long at the greatest of human tasks, — that of
making people think for themselves. " Knowledge and
reflection," she said, "should balance"; — though she
go PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
added, with a sigh, that " all we can do in this matter,
is to stand about the outer court and say, 'Won't you
And her object was not only reflection, but reflection
turned into conduct. She wanted to take a group of
bright and eager spirits from the great middle circle
of democracy and send them out again to make over
the world. This America, as she then saw with almost
prophetic vision, needed so many things, some con-
sciously and some unconsciously. She wanted her girls
to do something toward supplying the need, " We have
made it an object," she said, "to gain enlarged and
correct views ... as to what needs to be done, what
can be done, what ought to be done; and, finally, as to
what is our duty."^®
To know one's duty, in the largest sense, and to do
it, was her idea of education. As one of her pupils
expresses it, " her first aim was to make us Christians ;
her second to cultivate us intellectually."^'^ But her
own phrase, far finer, rings like a trumpet : " That they
should live for God and do something." ^^
Here we have the essence of Miss Lyon's teaching, of
her work in the world, of her own heart, — that they
MARY LYON 91
should live for God and do something. Is it not, so
far as it goes, a splendid, direct, and simple clue to
the great problem of education? It is, perhaps, for the
lack of such a clue that nowadays we grope and
flounder so dismally. For who will deny that in all
the difficulties that beset educative theory at the present
day the greatest is that we do not know what we want?
The old convenient standard of a liberal education is
slipping from us, has slipped from us completely. What
are we to put in the place of it? Two at least of our
great institutions of learning have mottoes that suggesi:
Miss Lyon's, " Not to be ministered unto but to minis-
ter," and "For Christ and the Church." But we can
neither agree about what they mean nor unite to apply
them. As with the unhappily married couple in Mr.
Ade's Fable, " The motto in the dining-room said, ' Love
one another,' but they were too busy to read." In-
stead, we turn to the practical issue of bread and
butter, and make it our educational ideal to train men
and women to go out into the world and contend with
their fellows for the material necessaries of life.
Miss Lyon's aim was simpler — not always easy to
apply, perhaps, but tangible, and, above all, inspiring
from its very nature: That they should live for God
and do something. But to understand the full bearing
92 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
of the words, we must consider more carefully what
God was to Miss Lyon herself.
To begin with, her religion was not a matter of con-
vention, not a mere tradition accepted from others and
passed on to others again, without an intimate grasp
of its nature and meaning. She came slowly to the
fullness and ripeness of faith; regretted often in her
early years that the divine ecstasy descended less amply
upon her than upon some more favored. She abhorred
pretense, the theory of feeling; wanted only sentiments
that were truly hers. How admirable is her confusion
in the presence of great natural beauty : " I feared that
I should be unable to feel the soul-moving power, and
I had an ardent desire that I might not acknowledge,
even to myself, any second-hand emotions, any influ-
ence which did not affect my own heart." ^^ Second-
hand emotions! Do we not all of us need to beware
As religion took fuller possession of her, she did
not suffer herself to be unduly exalted. To others it
seemed to come with ease and swiftness of glory. It
came with struggle and effort and long agony to her.
"In view of invisible and divine realities, my mind is
darkened, my preceptlons feeble, my heart cold anci
stupid. It seems as if such a low, groveling worm of
MARY LYON 93
the dust could never be fitted for heaven." ^° There
were days of distress and discouragement, days of bar-
renness, if not of doubt. "Sometimes I almost feel
that I am not my own, but I find my heart repeatedly
desiring those things from which I had almost sup-
posed it was forever separated."®*
A clear, calm, intellectual analysis was so natural to
her that she was tempted to apply it where faith and
love would have been more wholesome; although, in
the end, with the author of the "Imitation," she finds
that "after winter comes summer, after the night the
day, and after a storm a great calm." "It is won-
derful to me how the mind, after a state of doubt
and difficulty from which it seemed impossible to be
extricated, can, without any new light or new evi-
dence, settle down into a state of calm and quiet
But all these negative elements were as nothing to
the joy and rapture which religion gave her. She was
certainly not a mystic in the sense of pure contempla-
tion. Action was life to her, her soul was dynamic,
and her conception of God must have been that of a
full, outflowing, energetic, creative love. But this en-
ergy of action came to her, seasoned and flavored with
rapturous delight. "I love sometimes," she says, "to
94 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
lose sight of individuals, in thinking of the bundles of
eternal life and happiness that are bound up together
in heaven." ^^ And again: "But amidst the darkness,
and with a burden on my heart which I cannot de-
scribe, there is something in my soul which seems like
trust in God, that is like a peaceful river, overflowing
all its banks." «^
She wanted to bathe all who followed her in this
peaceful river, to make them partakers of this sustain-
ing and enduring joy; and to do this, she wanted to
build up their souls on an assured and stable founda-
tion of thought and devotion and self-control and self-
sacrifice. It must be admitted that some of her methods
for accomplishing her end seem to us now strange and
a little repellent, though perhaps they were none the
worse for that. Even to-day some persons feel that
dancing is not a very profitable employment; but few
would go so far as Miss Lyon: "When Satan would
spread his net to fascinate, allure, and destroy, he never
omits the dance." ^^ The payment 'of small debts is
undoubtedly desirable ; but it is making a serious matter
of it to urge that " it might be impossible, when, praying
for some one, to keep out of mind a ten cents her due." ^^
Again, the following injunction seems a little porten-
tous, though eminently appropriate to much modern
MARY LYON 95
youthful reading : " Never read a book without first
praying over it."*^^
These extremes make us smile. Others more solemn
make us tremble. Miss Lyon believed in hell with all
her soul. "If she had ever a flitting doubt of the
certainty of future retributions, that doubt was never
known or suspected by her most intimate friends." ^^ She
proposed to have her pupils believe in hell also. She
stood before them in chapel, a quiet, prim New England
lady, and made hell real. " It was the warning voice of
one who saw the yawning gulf. She would point to the
dark, shelving, fatal precipice, without a gesture, with-
out a motion, save of her moving lips, her hand laid
devoutly on that well-worn octavo Bible. She would
uncover the fiery billows rolling below, in the natural
but low, deep tones with which men talk of their
wills, their cofiins, and their graves." ^^ And this to a
company of young girls, at the most sensitive, emotional
age, just snatched from their sheltering homes and al-
ready unhinged by novel strains of every kind. It seems
to us like saving their souls at fearful peril to their
Even Miss Lyon's most concrete definition of educa-
tion, so often quoted, will hardly be quoted by any one
to-day without a smile of good-natured amusement, —
96 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
" A lady should be so educated that she can go as a mis-
sionary at a fortnight's notice." '^^
Yet, in spite of all these excesses, I believe that the
essence of the matter was with Miss Lyon. The minor
drawbacks, the superficial eccentricities, — even hell, —
fall away, and leave her dominant and vital with the su-
preme object of all her thought and life, which was God.
Those who followed her, she taught, must get out of
themselves, forget themselves : " How much happier
you would be to live in a thousand lives beside yourself
rather than to live in yourself alone !"'^^ They must
be ready to give all, to sacrifice all, to endure all, for
Christ and His Kingdom : " Property, education, time,
influence, friends, children, brothers and sisters, all
should be devoted to this object!"'''^ And in giving, in
sacrificing, there should be no waywardness, no willful-
ness, no whim of the individual. " Neither teachers nor
scholars should have any way of their own, or will of
their own, but all should be swallowed up in the will of
Finally, the heart of the whole was not merely doing,
not merely the devoted, unremitting effort to do right,
but rapture and glory : " Our minds are so constituted
that nothing but God can fill them." ^*
"There is but one thing needful," said Amiel, "to
MARY LYON 97
possess God." Miss Lyon thought it needful, not only
to possess God herself, but to make all others possess
Him, and she could not feel her own possession perfect
when she was not laboring at this magnificent, if
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher.
Bom in Litchfield, Connecticut, June 14, 181 1.
At school in Hartford, 1824.
Taught at Hartford, 1827 to 1832.
Went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to teach, 1832.
■Married Rev. Calvin E. Stowe, January 6, 1 836.
Removed to Brunswick, Maine, 1850.
" Uncle Tom's Cabin " published, 1852.
Removed to Andover, Massachusetts, 1852.
In Europe, 1853, 1856, 1859.
Removed to Hartford, 1863.
Mr. Stowe died August, 1886.
Died, July i, 1896.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
She was a little woman, rather plain than beautiful,
but with energy, sparkle, and vivacity written all over
her. I always think of her curls, but they were not
curls of coquetry or curls of sentiment; they were
just alive, as she was, and danced and quivered when
she nodded and glowed.
The first half of the nineteeth century, when she
was growing up, was still the age of ministers in New
England, and she was of a ministerial family, grew
up in that atmosphere, and inherited all its traditions.
Only she preached in books, not from the pulpit. She
passed her youth among the joys and torments of re-
ligion, as then practiced. She married and had children.
Then she set the world afire with " Uncle Tom's Cabin,"
made money, which she sorely needed, wrote more
books, a huge number of them, made more money in
proportion, spent it with much generosity and some joy,
and died, perhaps a great author, certainly having been
a great power in her day.
102 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
She did all this with health that was never robust,
never reliable, and often wretched. " A wisp of nerve," ^
she calls herself ; and she was. " She loved more," says
her biographer, "and consequently suffered more
than others, and the weight of her suffering was
heavier because she had grown up, apparently, almost
without care, either from herself or others, in behalf
of her body." ^ There were no gymnasiums for girls in
those days, no vigorous' outdoor sports, no lithe, swaying
figures and red cheeks; only samplers and prayer.
Mrs. Stowe often analyzed these conditions in her char-
acters, and also analyzed them, with much acuteness, in
herself. "About half of my time I am scarcely alive,
and a great part of the rest, the slave and sport of
morbid feeling and unreasonable prejudice. I have
everything but good health." ^
But do not suppose that she let morbid fancies or
cringing nerves interfere when there was work to be
done. That generation had its weaknesses, and some-
times cultivated them ; but it could trample on them,
when occasion demanded, and even forget them. Mrs.
Stowe was an excellent manager, careful of her house-
hold, careful of her husban3, careful of her children.
She could be up early and down late, sew, clean, and
cook, plan and provide. When moving had to be at-
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 103
tended to, she bore the burden. What that means,
every housekeeper knows.
She appreciated the importance of order and system in
a family : " I know that nothing can be done without it ;
it is the keystone, the sine qua non, and in regard to my
children I place it next to piety." ^ She gives an amus-
ing picture of her efforts to apply this principle in estab-
lishing a new home : furniture men flying about, servants
calling, assistants suggesting, everything to be done,
and nobody ready to do it.® Nerves were evidently out
of place in such a scene as this, and she whipped them
into submission — could even make fun when, in the
midst of it, she received from her husband a letter, sat-
urated with gloom, warning her that he could not live
long, wondering what she could do as a widow, and
urging prudence, as she would not have much to live on.
Prudence ! With big freight-bills to pay and the children
clamoring for steak to sustain them through their labors !
When these whirlwinds of achievement are over, the
nerves revenge themselves. Nerves usually do. She has
times of depression so deep that she hardly seems to live :
" All I wanted was to get home and die. Die I was very
sure I should, at any rate, but I suppose I was never less
prepared to do so."^ Again, "I let my plants die by inches
before my eyes, and do not water them, and I dread
104 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
everything I do, and wish it was not to be done." '^ Yet,
even in these depths, if there is a call from others in
greater misery, she can respond, sometimes with sooth-
ing tenderness, sometimes with cheerful rallying. When
her husband writes to her in utter despair, the sympathy
of her answer is disguised in gentle mockery. "My
dear Soul, I received your most melancholy effusion, and
I am sorry to find it 's just so. I entirely agree and sym-
pathize. Why did n't you engage the two tombstones —
one for you and one for me ? " ^
This gayety, which she could apply to her own
troubles, of course made her delightful to others, and
socially she was popular and much sought after. Like
most persons of sensitive temperament and nervous
organization, she at once liked society and shunned it.
The instinct of avoiding people, of remaining shut up
within herself, was strong in her, and she had to make
an effort to overcome it: "I am trying to cultivate a
general spirit of kindliness towards everybody. Instead
of shrinking into a corner to notice how other people
behave, I am holding out my han3 to the right and to the
left, and forming casual or incidental acquaintances
with all who will be acquainted with me." ® She culti-
vates the habit of speaking to disagreeable people, to
nonentities, and finding the good that can surely be
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 105
found in them. Also, she feels the intense excitement
of social intercourse, with its consequent fatigue and
reaction: "I believe it would kill me dead to live long
in the way I have been doing since I have been here.
It is a sort of agreeable delirium." ^^
In the main she likes people. Instead of saying, with
Madame de Staal-Delaunay, that she is always glad
to make new friends because she knows they cannot be
worse than the old, she declares that she leaves Bruns-
wick with regret, because she shall never find friends
whom she likes better than those she has made there.
And men and women liked her, because she liked
them. She entered many circles and mingled with all
sorts of people, and everywhere she was received with
esteem and affection. She herself speaks of the singu-
lar charm and fascination of her brother, Henry Ward
Beecher: "He has something magnetic about him that
makes everybody crave his society — that makes men
follow and worship him."^^ The magnetism in her
case was by no means so marked ; but it was there, and
very many found it irresistible.
If she was popular in general society and was liked
by others because she liked them, much more had she
a tender and devoted affection in the most intimate re-
lations of life. "There is a heaven," she says, "a
io6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
heaven — a world of love, and love after all is the life-
blood, the existence, the all in all of mind." ^^ And in a
simpler and even more penetrating phrase, she shows
how thoroughly she had experienced what she estimates
so highly : " Oh, Mary, we never know how we love till
we try to unlove." ^^
Her devotion to her father and to her brothers and
sisters was constant and unfailing. Perhaps the nearest
of them all to her was Henry Ward Beecher, and the
strength of her love for him appears strikingly in the
letters written in regard to his greatest trial. She not
only rejects all possible doubt as to his innocence and
purity, but rejects it with a whole-hearted 'conviction
which it is difficult to resist. He is herself, she says, and
she feels a blow at him more than she would feel it at
Her children she loved and tended an3 cared for, en-
tering into all the interests of their lives and being pros-
trated by their illness or death. It certainly could not
be said of her that she was a writer before she was a
mother: "My children I would not change for all the
ease, leisure, and pleasure that I could have without
them." " Like all persons of deep and sensitive natures,
she feels the utmost difficulty in expressing affection.
What are those strange, those insurmountable barriers
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 107
that make it impossible for the tenderness that fills our
hearts to overflow our lips, so that we meet our dearest
with a jest, or a quip, or a casual comment, instead of
the sincere outpouring of passionate devotion? How
many of us can echo Mrs. Stowe's words : " As for ex-
pression of affection . . . the stronger the affection,
the less inclination have I to express it. Yet sometimes
I think myself the most frank, open, and communica-
tive of beings, and at other times the most reserved." ^^
How many of us, again, resolve, as she did, when a
friend mourned over not having told a lost child how
much she loved him, that we will not make the same
mistake, but will give our feelings full expression, while
there is yet time? The time passes, till it grows too
late, and all against our will our lips are sealed.
The 3epth and the varying phases of Mrs. Stowe's
love of her husband are naturally not fully seen in her
published letters. That she did love him, both before
marriage and after, is evident enough. With the
writer's instinct of analysis, she makes a curious dis-
section of her feelings to a friend, half an hour before
her wedding: "Well, my dear, I have been dreading and
^reading the time, and lying awake wondering how I
should live through this overwhelming crisis, and lo ! it
has come, and I feel nothing at all." ^^ But neither the
io8 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
dread nor the indifference indicates any doubt or coldness
as to Professor Stowe. When she writes of him to others,
it is with a warm efflorescence of praise. His tenderness
enwraps her, his enthusiasm upholds her, his confidence
sustains her. When she writes to him directly, their
mutual understanding and intimate affection are obvious
in every line. Amusing stories are told of his occasional
assertion of being something more than Mrs. Stowe's
husband; but these never imply any jealousy or undue
sensitiveness in one who was well qualified to play his
part in life without being the husband of anybody.
Like many writers, and some who have been among
the most successful, Mrs. Stowe was neither a great
scholar nor a great reader of the writings of others.
She speaks of her enjoyment in early childhood of the
poetry of Scott. Later, after looking in dismay at the
appalling collection of theology in her father's library,
she was able to divert herself with the odd agglomera-
tion of fact and fancy in Mather's "Magnalia." As
her education went on, she of course became familiar
with the standard books which, as names at any rate,
are known to intelligent people. She also read curi-
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 109
ously such writings of contemporaries as appealed to
her quick and eager spirit. But she created her own
work from what she saw in Hfe, not from what she
found in books. She had neither the vast zest for
knowledge as such which is so evident in Margaret Ful-
ler and Sarah Ripley, nor the enthusiasm for education
as a moral agent which animated Mary Lyon. Quota-
tions and literary references are not frequent in her
letters or in her formal writings. It is the same with
artistic matters generally. In later years European
travel trained her to a good deal of interest in pictures
and architecture. But her temperament was not natu-
rally aesthetic, nor was it especially susceptible to
emotional stimulus from painting or music.
The great activity, the really vital and vivid manifes-
tation of her spiritual Hfe, was in religion. When she
was twelve years old, she wrote a composition entitled,
"Can the Immortality of the Soul be proved by the
Light of Nature?" It is a truly appalling production
for a child of that age — not in itself, but when one
thinks of all it meant in the way of wearing, haunting,
morbid spiritual discipline and suggestion.
The young person of to-day cannot realize what these
religious problems were to the young person of one hun-
dred years ago. The atmosphere which was breathed
no PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
from morning to night was loaded with discussion and
controversy. Nobody understood this better than Mrs.
Stowe, or has depicted it more powerfully. " On some
natures," she says, "theology operates as a subtle
poison; and the New England theology in particular,
with its intense clearness, its sharp-cut crystalline edges
and needles of thought, has had in a peculiar degree the
power of lacerating the nerves of the soul, and produc-
ing strange states of morbid horror and repulsion." ^^
Elsewhere she puts this influence even more forcibly:
"With many New England women at this particular
period, when life was so retired and so cut off from out-
ward sources of excitement, thinking grew to be a
If such statements were true in general, even of girls
who had the ordinary surroundings of this world and
were not especially bound to the atmosphere of the sanc-
tuary, they were far more applicable to Mrs. Stowe her-
self. Her family was essentially Levitical, and the
quintessence of theological excitement was distilled about
her dreaming childhood. Her father, Lyman Beecher,
was a giant of the faith. He was a robust, active, natu-
rally healthy spirit, a dynamic creature, who used to
shovel sand from one corner of the cellar to another to
tone his bodily muscles, and toned the muscles of his
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE iii
spirit by shoveling sinners to heaven or to hell. He was
born too normal to suffer, himself, the extreme agonies
of a tormented conscience, though his curious " Autobi-
ography " shows that even the normal had their struggles
to go through.
When it came to a sensitive nervous organization like
his daughter's, the spiritual tumult that he spread around
him had a far different effect. No doubt she was only
one of many; but we have the advantage of a keener
insight into her sufferings than into those of others. No
doubt there was a certain strange pleasure in the suffer-
ings themselves, an intense, thrilling appreciation of
being at any rate alive, such as is quaintly indicated in
the brief sentence of Anatole France, "It is sweet to
believe, even in hell." Yet, as we read the story of Mrs.
Stowe's experiences from our modern point of view, we
rebel a little, with the feeling that there is enough una-
voidable misery in the world without adding the dis-
tresses of the imagination.
What these distresses were in Mrs. Stowe's case we
gather from many passages in her letters. That her
sensitiveness, her response to influences of joy and de-
pression, to every suggestion from others, was extreme,
is everywhere evident. " I believe that there never was
a person more dependent on the good and evil opinions
112 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
of those around than I am." ^^ That she took all her
spiritual experiences with passion, is evident also.
"Thought, intense emotional thought, has been my
The weight of original sin upon such a temperament,
the horror of it, with all its fearful consequences, may;
easily be imagined. An ideal of perfection was before
her always, and it seemed as if she never attained it, —
and of course she never did. She could do nothing right.
Temptations daily beset her and she daily yielded. Back
of all her sins was pride, fierce, devilishly prompting
pride, the old, stubborn, willful, unconquerable self.
She went hourly into battle with it. Sometimes she
triumphed for a moment; but it rose again, in hydra
All this was forced in upon her soul, beaten in upon
it. You are irretrievably wicked, said her best friends ;
there is no escape but one: believe — you must believe.
So she believed, or said she did, and tried to — tried by
day and by night to find her way through the complex
maze of doctrine which believing meant in those days.
At moments she felt that she had succeeded. Rest came,
a wide peace settled down upon her ; it seemed that she
could never again be troubled any more. "My whole
soul was illumined with joy, and as I left the church
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 113
to walk home, it seemed to me as if Nature herself were
hushing her breath to > hear the music of heaven." ^^
She said to her father, in ecstasy, " Father, I have given
myself to Jesus, and He has taken me." And her father
answered, as much rejoiced as she, "Then has a new
flower blossomed in the kingdom this day."
But the ecstasies did not endure. Do they ever, did
they ever, even in the calmest and most saintly heart?
Doubts come, difficulties, sometimes a flush of rebellion.
She hears preachers say that we have no plea to offer for
our sins and no excuse. Have we not? she says. Why
were we put into the world with the fierce thirst for
sin and so helpless to resist it? "I have never known
the time when I have not had a temptation within me
so strong that it was certain I should not overcome it." ^^
Worse than the doubts is the dead feeling of exhaus-
tion and emptiness that follows enthusiasm. You are in
heaven for an hour. An hour afterwards you do not
care whether you are in heaven or in hell. The terrible
struggle of these experiences has dried her mind and
withered her soul. "Though young, I have no sym-
pathy with the feelings of youth." ^^ So her spirit
flutters in an endless turmoil, exalted and depressed all
the more because of the quiet and tranquillity of her life
114 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
It is needless to say that she fought through the
storm, that with the passage of years she retained the
essence of her faith, at the same time dropping or ob-
scuring the struggles and terrors of it. The world was
broadening about her and she broadened fully with it.
Love came to be the great stronghold of her religion,
love and hope and sunshine. She grew more and more
willing to leave the mysteries and the problems to take
care of themselves.
But whatever religion she had, it was a primary In-
stinct to preach it. She was not essentially a mystic,
content to enjoy her spiritual ecstasies in solitude, to
brood over them without any effort to extend them to
others. She was born to be active, to be energetic, to
make the world feel her existence. When she was a
little child, she heard somebody read the Declaration of
Independence and it made her " long to do something, I
knew not what: to fight for my country, or to make
some declaration on my own account." ^* She was like
the young college graduate just engaged, who was
found in tears and explained that she "wanted to do
something for the world and for Wellesley and for
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 115
In the New England of those days the desire to do
something generally meant to communicate one's reli-
gious experiences. This of course involved making
others extremely wretched; but as it was to save their
souls, what did it matter ? Had not one been extremely
wretched one's self? So many of these quiet, earnest,
simple women had fought through a passionate spiritual
struggle to a hardly earned and hardly sustained vic-
tory! The great impulse of their lives was to fight
the battle and win the victory for those they loved,
for an even wider world, for every one. Each new
battle in a new soul made their own triumphs more
confirmed and sure. If this was the case with women
in general, how much more so was it with one who had
grown up in an atmosphere of preaching and teaching;
whose father had spent his life wrestling with the devil
in the pulpit and in the study and had worsted him glori-
ously; whose brothers had followed the same career
with like energy and success ! She speaks of one of these
brothers as "peppering the land with moral influence.""^
Was it not certain that, with her temperament and her
experiences, she would want, in some shape or other, to
hold the pepper-pot herself?
She Hid. It must not be understood from this that in
daily life she was pedantic, or inclined to moralize and
ii6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
sermonize. On the contrary, she was gay and sym-
pathetic. She had a wide appreciation of human nature,
a wide comprehension of it ; and this led her to bear with
others whose point of view was entirely different from
hers. " Tolerance," she says in one of her books, " tol-
erance for individual character is about the last Chris-
tian grace that comes to flower in family or church." ^®
It had come to flower with her. Men and women
might differ vastly in beliefs, in standards, even in
practice, and yet be all lovable. "My dear friend,"
she says, "we must consider other people's natures." ^^
Is it possible to give more broadly human as well as more
broadly Christian advice than that?
But all the tolerance and comprehension did not mean
indifference or mere idle study of men's various ways of
going to ruin. With the sympathy came a passionate
desire to help, a profound conviction that sympathy
was the best agent for helping. And as she had a con-
stant eagerness to make over souls, so she had a
whirlwind energy in the manner of doing it. She
tells us of her father's wonderful faculty of exciting
family enthusiasm. When he had an object to accom-
plish, he would work the whole household up to a pitch
of fervent zeal, in which the strength of each one seemed
quadrupled. She amply inherited the trait, and strove
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 117
with all her nervous force to do good, wherever she
might be. Even the simple pursuit of her own pleasure
she was fain to justify by some side-issue of benevo-
lence. Thus, when she bought a plantation in Florida,
she urged that she was largely influenced by the wish to
elevate the people. The plan, she says, " is not in any
sense a mere worldly enterprise." ^^
Very characteristic is the anecdote told by Elizabeth
Stuart Phelps of the friend in Germany whom Mrs.
Stowe was anxious to convert from his sceptical phi-
losophy. First, she argued, pleaded, persuaded by letter,
some of her letters being even thirty pages long. When
this epistolary effort failed her, she was obliged to rely
wholly upon prayer; and at length, at Christmas-time,
her perseverance was rewarded by the complete conver-
sion of the reluctant German. ^®
But with Mrs. Stowe the natural expression for this
preaching, reforming impulse was literature, just' as
with Mary Lyon it was teaching. Gautier said that the
production of copy was a natural function with George
Sand. Without emphasizing it quite so strongly, it may
yet be said that the pen was the implement that Mrs.
Stowe handled most readily and with most pleasure.
She did not write because she read. She wrote because
she thought and felt, and writing was to her the sim-
ii8 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
plest medium for getting rid of thought and feeling.
Like many others with a similar gift, she was not frank
or particularly outspoken in daily converse. It costs
her an effort to express feeling of any kind, she says.
Yet when she took her pen, all her inner life flowed out
readily. Could she have said to any one what she wrote
of Niagara, for instance? "I felt as if I could have
gone over with the waters; it would be so beautiful a
death; there would be no fear in it. I felt the rock
tremble under me with a sort of joy. I was so maddened
that I could have gone too, if it had gone."^*^
All her life writing excited her, overpowered her.
She does not do it methodically, systematically, but with
a frenzy of self-forgetfulness. "My own hook, instead
of cooling, boils and bubbles daily and nightly." ^^ The
work overcomes her in the production ; it overcomes her
afterwards, as if it were the production of some one else.
When she reads of the death of Uncle Tom, she can
" scarcely restrain the convulsion of tears and sobbings "
that shakes her frame. ^^
With such a mighty instrument of preaching at hand
as this, how can she fail to exercise it? It is a most
interesting study to disentangle the web of motives that
lies behind her literary achievement. Money? Money
enters in, of course. Mrs. Stowe liked to earn. She also
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 119
liked to spend and liked to give. Now earning was irregu-
lar, spending was lamentably regular. She so managed
that she was never seriously hampered financially; she
was too prudent and too honorable for that. But the
pressure of money needs was not strictly favorable to
the pursuit of literature. Her biographers tell us that
at times what she pursued was not literature, but the
necessities of life; and she herself says that when she
began " Uncle Tom," she was " driven to write by the
necessity of making some income for family expenses." ^^
Yet the passion for writing, for doing something that
would make the world remember her, went far deeper
than any need of money. Her sister, in a sharp, brief
characterization of all the family, says that, as a child,
"Harriet is just as odd, and loves to be laughed at as
much as ever."^^ To be laughed at, to be pointed at,
to be praised — there is the writer surely. Mrs. Stowe
tells us that, when she first began to read, she was pos-
sessed with the longing to do something in literature.
When she was thirteen, she wrote a tragedy. " It filled
my thoughts sleeping and waking," ^^ till her sister
forced her to write extracts from Butler's "Analogy,"
instead. All through the production of her lengthy
series of works it is evident that she was impelled by
something besides the need of money: that the intense
I20 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
ambition to succeed, to get glory, to touch and move and
thrill the hearts of men, was ever present with her.
At the same time, she would not have admitted that
this was her main motive, any more than money. Her
gifts, if she had any, were given her for a purpose, and
that was never forgotten. "He has given me talents
and I will lay them at his feet, well satisfied if He will
accept them."^^ She writes with her life-blood, she
says, and " as called of God." In " Uncle Tom " she was
openly and confessedly doing missionary work. But in
everything she ever wrote, her desire was the same. She
was a Beecher. The Beechers were Levites, preachers,
all of them, — only it fell to her to hold forth from a
vaster pulpit than any other Beecher ever dreamed of.
And just as with them, so her utterances were given to
her from a higher source. She did not write "Uncle
Tom," she declares. She saw it, she felt it, she heard it
in prophetic visions. It came to her in a great tide of
inspiration, the spirit pouring through her as its mere
humble instrument for the renovation and regeneration
of the world.
And as the preaching, missionary instinct was always
present in her literary ambition, so it was equally present
in her enjoyment of popularity and success. It is un-
necessary to say that these came to her in vast measure.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 121
and she appreciated them. When she was eleven years
old, her father asked her teacher who wrote a certain
composition. "Your daughter, sir." ^^ "It was the
proudest moment o£ my life," she says. But she had
many proud moments afterwards. The storm of ap-
plause — and of equally intoxicating obloquy — which
came to her from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" has not often
been surpassed in the history of literature. She was
praised and admired and reviled in America. In Eng-
land the reviling was less, the praise and admiration
perhaps even greater. When she visited that country,
high and low crowded to gaze upon her, to touch her
hand, to hear her speak.
Nor was it all vague and impersonal glory which
flowed about her in the streets but left her alone on an
isolated pinnacle. What she asked of the world most
was love. In the full sweep of her success she wrote,
" It is not fame nor praise that contents me. I seem never
to have needed love so much as now." ^^ Well, love came
to her. She made friends everywhere, friends with
wealth, friends with distinction, friends with titles, who
took her into their hearts just as nearly as those who had
grown up with her at home. The warm lining of her
fame was as rich and lasting as its glittering outside.
Through it all she was modest, put on no airs or vain
122 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
pretenses, did not seem to feel that she had done any-
thing great, insisted, with apparent sincerity, that the
work was not her work, nor hers the glory. She moved
among those curious and applauding crowds, a little,
quiet, shrinking yet always dignified figure, with a half
smile of wonder what they were all making such a fuss
about. " It was enough to frighten a body into fits," says
her husband of one great occasion. " But we took it as
quietly as we could, and your mamma looked as meek
as Moses in her little, battered straw hat and gray cloak,
seeming to say, ' I did n't come here o' purpose.' " ^^
She enjoyed it ; oh, there is no doubt about that. She
was' eminently human, and few human beings have lived
who would not have enjoyed it. But through all the
tumult and hurly-burly there persiste(i' that still, small
voice telling her that the triumph and the means that
won it were given her for a purpose. The instinct of
the missionary and preacher at once excused her joy in
her success and doubled it. Not hers was it to write
brilliant and cleverly turned stories for the fleeting en-
chantment of an hour, but to stir hearts, to win hearts,
to push on the movement of great causes in a turbid
Lowell, writing as editor of the "Atlantic," of which
she was a pillar in those 3ays, cautioned her to "Let
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 123
your moral take care of itself, and remember that an
author's writing-desk is something infinitely higher
than a pulpit." ^°
To her there was nothing higher than a pulpit, nothing
could be. " The power of fictitious writing, for good as
well as evil, is a thing which ought most seriously to be
reflected on,"^^ she says. She never ceased to reflect
She reflected on it more than she did on her story,
her incidents, or her characters. In fact, fortunately,
these hurried her on without reflection. But plenty
of the reflection on the power of fictitious writing
for good and evil always got mixed up with them.
By temperament she was an interested and an acute
and exact observer of human nature, both external and
internal. Her stories, all her stories in greater or less
degree, are founded on an extensive study of character
and manners. This is true of her Southern novels,
and they show that she had made good use of her oppor-
tunities in collecting material, both consciously and un-
consciously. It is far more true of her New England
books; and the fine and varied insight of "The Minis-
ter's Wooing," "The Pearl of Orr's Island," especially
124 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
of "Oldtown Folks," has hardly been surpassed since.
In this line it must be remembered that Mrs. Stowe was
an originator, for Hawthorne's work was entirely differ-
ent in spirit. If Miss Jewett, Mrs. Freeman, and Miss
Alice Brown have developed some sides more effec-
tively, Mrs. Stowe deserves credit for having set the
great example. The shrewdness, the sympathy, with
which she depicted the New England farmer, and, above
all, his wife and daughter, are forever commendable
and delightful. That peculiar thing called the New
England conscience is especially fascinating to Mrs.
Stowe, and she is never weary of disentangling its curi-
ous webs of subtle torment.
In making all these investigations she sometimes likes
to think of herself as the artist merely, who portrays
man's body and soul with scientific ardor and is more
concerned with truth than with moral efficacy. "I am
myself but the observer and reporter," she wTites, " see-
ing much, doubting much, questioning much, and be-
lieving with all my heart only in a very few things." ^^
She does herself infinite injustice. By comparison with
some of us, she believed in a great many things. Espe-
cially, she was filled with an overwhelming zeal to con-
vey to others what beliefs she had. It is here that she
differs from the notable writers who have succeeded
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 125-
her. They, for the most part, observe and report life
as it is, from scientific and artistic curiosity. But to
Mrs. Stowe every heart is a text and every tragedy a
fearful example. She probably was not aware herself
how furiously she preached. But no Beecher was ever
a mere observer, or could have been contented to leave
New England and the world without making them
And as her observation and material were affected by
her missionary spirit, so her artistic methods were
affected even more. Everywhere the illustration of
human truth is a secondary object; the first is to produce
an effect — naturally, a moral effect. Now, in literature
the subordination of truth to effect, no matter for what
purpose, is melodrama. Dumas and the thousands like
him arrange effective incident merely to amuse, to
startle and excite the reader; Mrs. Stowe arranges it
to jolt the reader into the path of virtue. It is not a
question of violent sensation. Where are there more
violent sensations than are to be found in Shakespeare ?
But, as TroUope admirably remarks, there is no objec-
tion to sensation, no matter how violent, provided it is
always subordinated to the Hevelopment of character.
When character is subordinated to sensation, the proper
name is surely melodrama. It is amusing and profitable
126 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN "
to hear Mrs. Stowe herself on this subject. Some one has
accused her of being moved by melodrama. She is at
first appalled, though she has no very clear idea what
is meant. Then she concludes consolingly, "If, by
being melodramatic, as the terrible word is, he [the
painter] can shadow forth a grand and comforting reli-
gious idea . . . who shall say that he may not do so
because he violates the lines of some old Greek artist? "*^
You see the point.
An entertaining side-issue of this preaching aspect of
the creator of Uncle Tom is her active part in the Byron
controversy. I have no wish to stir up a vexed and dis-
agreeable question; but I do insist that Mrs. Stowe^s
part in it was based upon the zealous desire to do good,
however much lack of tact she may have shown. When
she was a child, she adored Byron, and was deeply over-
come by the announcement of his death. She heard it
from her father, who also adored him, — with reserva-
tions, — and thought that, if Byron "could only have
talked with Taylor and me, it might have got him out of
his troubles." ^^ Is n't that delicious ? Later, she became
intimate with Lady Byron, and, after her death, felt that
an effort to make clear her relations with her husband
was a necessary act of justice to the memory of a long
maligned woman. And what a magnificent theme it was
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 127
for moral edification! Still, you see, the preacher
Beecher. For it cannot be denied that there hung
always about Mrs. Stowe that light, vast aura of sancti-
fication which is, or was, so apt to emanate from the
New England ministerial being, and which is condensed
into a supernatural glow upon the countenance, even
pictured, of her distinguished brother, Henry Ward.
I do not mean, however, to stress this missionary
side of Mrs. Stowe with undue emphasis. As I have
before pointed out, she was a sunny, human person,
with large understanding of the weaknesses of others
and large allowance for them. She had an excellent
portion of humor in her composition, and indeed this
was as characteristic of her family as was preaching.
She says of her oldest sister that her " life seemed to be
a constant stream of mirthfulness ;" *^ and Harriet her-
self often drifted into broacl eddies of the same golden
river. From her father she inherited the faculty of
amusing people as well as that of admonishing them.
From him also she got a sense of the pleasant things of
this world, and a sort of eternal youth for enjoying
them. "Hearts never grow old, do they?" cried the
Reverend Lyman; and his daughter could have said
One even divines in Mrs. Stowe pagan possibilities
128 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
that are really delightful. She reproaches George Eliot
with too much self-abnegation, and wishes that she could
get her into the Beecher household, where "we some-
times make the rafters ring with fun, and say; anything
and everything, no matter what."^^ She has occa-
sionally an obscure feeling that something is wrong in
the preaching attitude; that there are interests in life
besides being good and the effect to make others so.
" With all New England's earnestness and practical effi-
ciency," she writes, " there is a long withering of the
soul's more ethereal part, — a crushing out of the
beautiful, — which is horrible. Children are born there
with a sense of beauty equally delicate with any in the
world, in whom it dies a lingering death of smothered
desire and pining, weary starvation. I know, because I
have felt it." ^^
What charms me most in this connection is Mrs.
Stowe's conversion to Rubens. In all the wide spiritual
world can you imagine temperaments more different?
She knew it as well as you do. She begins by hating
him. Yet even then she feels the power. "Rubens,
whose pictures I detested with all the energy of my soul,
I knew and felt all the time, by the very pain he gave me,
to be a real living artist." ^^ Afterwards, when she sees
the gorgeous Medici group in Paris, she is almost, if
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE 129
not quite, converted. That starved childish spirit v^hich
hungered for earthly loveliness in the barren New Eng-
land desert found something to thrill it in the Rubens
flesh, so splendidly redolent of the glory of this world.
In fact, if she had been a pagan suckled in a creed out-
worn, she would have followed it with the same proselyt-
ing ardor that she gave to Christianity; and the image
of Mrs. Stowe, a thyrsus in her hand, undraped in a
dainty, if limited, garment of fawnskin, careering over
the pastures by the sea, at the head of a Bacchic squad-
ron of middle-aged New England matrons, does not lack
a certain piquant, if indecorous, exhilaration.
But she was to descend to posterity, not as a votaress
of Bacchus, but as an ardent expositor of the New Eng-
land conscience. All her books are saturated with it. In
every one of them nature and human nature, passion and
hope, good and ill, are used to illustrate the goodness of
God, the importance of virtue, the absolute necessity of
making over the world on the New England model.
Perhaps "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is no better than some
of the others ; but it has the characteristics of all of them,
and a fortunate conjunction of circumstances gave it an
enormous success which none of the others could have
achieved. Read everywhere in America and Europe,
translated into all languages, a mighty instrument in
130 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
the extinction of slavery, it was far more than a
novel, it was one of the greatest moral agencies the
world has seen; and Mrs. Stowe will be simply the author
of it to millions who know, and care to know, nothing
else about her. Few teachers or preachers anywhere can
ever hope to accomplish such results as she did.
Undeniably, with Mrs. Stowe, as with others of her
type, there are times when one wearies intensely of this
missionary endeavor. After all, the sky is blue, the
w^nds blow, and life is pleasant. Why not let it go at
that? Yet, when the hours and days of anguish come,
— for the individual or for the world, — as they are
coming now, we realize that perhaps we need these little,
fragile, insinuating, indomitable things with curls to
drive or wheedle us into the fold of God.
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI
Sarah Margaret Fuller
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 23, 1810.
Grew up in Cambridge and Groton.
Taught and talked in Boston and elsewhere, 1837-1844.
Edited the " Dial," 1840-1842.
Literary Life in New York, 1844-1846.
In Europe, 1846-1850.
Married the Marquis Ossoli, December, 1847.
Drowned off Fire Island, July 19, 1850.
-&> / V
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI
Sarah Margaret Fuller brought the thrill of life
wherever she went, though she was often only half alive
herself. As a child, from 1820 to 1830, she stirred her
Cambridge playmates. As a teacher and talker she
stirred the transcendental circles of Boston. As a writer
in New York she moved men and women with her soul
more than with her pen. She went to Italy in the forties
and the Italians loved her, and one of them made her
a marchioness and a mother. Then the stormy sea
engulfed her, as it did Shelley.
Mrs. Cheney, writing in 1902, fifty years after Mar-
garet's death, says : " She is the woman of America who
is moulding the lives and the characters of her country-
women more than any other. It is for her that in the
new West, which she was among the first to understand,
the women's clubs are named, and both in the East and
West audiences gladly listen to all that can be told of
her." ^ I wonder if this is as true to-day as it was then.
The best way to understand Margaret will be to ana-
134 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
lyze her in three distinct phases, to unfold, as if were,
one wrapping after another, until we reach the essential
secret of her heart. And first we should see her in that
social contact with others which, at any rate in the
earlier part of her life, was her ambition and her despair.
No one has striven harder than she to accomplish in hu-
man relations what those who strive hardest recognize
most clearly in the end to be impossible.
As a woman, if we are to consider her socially, we
must begin by thinking of her appearance. She had a
passionate longing to be beautiful ; but apparently no one
thought her so. She was rather short, rather heavy,
had a lofty but not attractive carriage, opened and shut
her eyes oddly, poised her head oddly. Emerson says
that she "made a disagreeable first impression on most
persons . . . to such an extreme that they did not wish
to be in the same room with her."^ She grew aware of
this with time, though perhaps she did not wholly un-
'derstand the causes. I " made up my mind," she says,
" to be bright and ugly." ^
She was bright enough, but there was too much mak-
ing up the mind about it, and it did not please strangers,
— nor even, in the early days, people who knew her well.
[A tradition of intense dislike still surrounds her name
for many who can never get over it. Horace Mann,
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 135
suggesting a popular impression about her family, said
that " she had the disagreeableness of forty Fullers," ^
and certainly at times she did appear to concentrate a
large dose of the unattractive. "To the multitude she
was a haughty and supercilious person," ^ says one who
admired and loved her. However much she may have
prized attention and applause, she would not stoop for
them. It is doubtful whether the records of history
show a woman who began life by declaring, to herself
and others, a larger and more sweeping sense of her
own power and importance. Her mighty and four-
square egotism teased the shy and self-distrustful Haw-
thorne till he had immortalized it in the Zenobia of the
"Blithedale Romance." It disconcerted the sfrave Emer-
son. It annoyed Lowell, — "A very foolish, conceited
woman." ^ It amused Horace Greeley, who was not
without his own fair share of the same quality. The
pleasant interplay of the two egotisms together is de-
lightfully illustrated in Margaret's comment on Horace :
"His abilities, in his own way, are great. He believes
in mine to a surprising extent. We are true friends." '''
But nothing can equal Margaret's own words about
herself. "There are also in every age a few in whose
lot the meaning of that age is concentrated. I feel that
I am one of those persons in my age and sex. I feel
136 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
chosen among women." ^ And again, " I now know all
the people worth knowing in America, and I find no in-
tellect comparable to my own."^ She was fully de-
veloped and mature when she said this, and I do not
know where you can surpass it. With all her brilliancy
and all her wit, perhaps she lacked the sense of humor
that might have saved her from the worst excesses of
To be sure, more think these things than say them,
and we must accredit Margaret with a royal candor
which is not without charm. She said what she thought
about herself, and she said what she thought about others
right to their faces. Those who were large enough
came to appreciate the spirit in which she did it. But
many were not large enough, and her best friends admit
that she combined candor with a singular and unfortu-
It must not be supposed, however, that Margaret
nursed, or wished to nurse, her self-esteem in private.
I have said that she sought society. She did, and with
the wish to dominate and control it, to be the leader,
if anything at all. In this respect, as in some others,
she recalls Lady Holland, who for so many years main-
tained a salon by sheer force of will. Margaret "had
an immense appetite for social intercourse,"^^ says one
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 137
who knew her intimately, and she threw herself into
this, as into everything, with the furious ardor which
she herself understood so well. "There is no modesty
or moderation in me."^^ Wherever she came, she
wished to lead, and to dominate whomsoever she met.
Yield to her, and she would love you — if she thought
you worth while. Resist her, and you became an object
of interest, whether she thought you worth while or
not. Emerson says : " When a person was overwhelmed
by her, and answered not a word except 'Margaret,
be merciful to me, a sinner,' then her love and tender-
ness would come like a seraph's." ^^
The means she used to ensnare and captivate were
as varied as they were startling. She would adapt
herself to every one, be all things to all men and women,
if the fancy seized her. Persuasion was just as much
at her command as force. Her powers of imitation and
mimicry were unlimited. "Had she condescended to
appear before the footlights, she would soon have been
recognized as the first actress of the Nineteenth Cen-
tury," ^^ says Greeley. We have often heard before of
ladies who would have been, if they had condescended.
Nevertheless, the tribute is important for the study of
Margaret. Read, also, her own autobiographical story,
"Mariana," with its extraordinary account of her at-
138 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
tempts as a child at boarding-school to control and
dominate her fellow pupils, the arts and wiles and de-
ceptions she cunningly practiced only to overthrow her
influence in the end by her impatient haughtiness and
eccentricity. She had, she says of herself, "the same
power of excitement that is described in the spinning
dervishes of the East. Like them she would spin until
all around her were giddy, while her own brain, instead
of being disturbed, was excited to great action." ^^
Read, also, Emerson's description of the means she used
to overcome his original prejudice: "She studied my
tastes, piqued and amused me, challenged frankness by
frankness, and did not conceal the good opinion of me
she brought with her, nor her wish to please. She was
curious to know my opinions and experiences. Of
course, it was impossible long to hold out against such
urgent assault." ^^
So others found it besides Emerson. For it must be
recognized that this singular creature, who had such
a power of making enemies and arousing distaste, had
also such immense mental and spiritual resources that
her talk was admired and her society sought by the
wisest and the wittiest persons who came" near her. To
begin with, she had a belief in' conversation, its delights
and possibilities, which seems pathetic to those who
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 139
have pursued the ideal of it through an Odyssey of
failure. She loved to talk, to make others talk, even
to try to make others talk. It must be confessed that,
by universal testimony, she had an extraordinary power
of stimulation, of taking what seemed to be dull clods
and making hearts of them. Madame Arconati wrote
Emerson that she had known no woman with a mind
'plus vivifiant}^ The word seems final. Her soul
touched others and made them live.
All records of these wonderful talkers, all attempts
to transmit them to posterity, are more or less unsuc-
cessful. But Margaret has been fortunate in her in-
terpreters. They rarely note her words, but, wisely, the
impression she made upon them. And it is easy to
gather what her power of adaptation was in different
surroundings. For instance, Horace Greeley found her
serious, in the main. "She could be joyous and even
merry; but her usual manner, while with us, was one
of grave thoughtfulness, absorption in noble deeds, and
in paramount aspirations."^'' How different is Emer-
son's picture! He does not, indeed, deny the gravity.
She could and would talk with ravishing earnestness, and
with a frankness, as from man to man, which no man
could excel. But what sudden and surprising changes
from gravity to mirth, what echoing gayety, what swift
I40 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
and stinging satire, what instant gift of adjustment to
the call of circumstance! "She sympathizes so fast
with all forms of life, that she talks never narrowly or
hostilely, nor betrays, like all the rest, under a thin
garb of new words, the old droning cast-iron opinions
or notions of many years' standing." ^^ And the same
excellent judge sums up her talk as "the most enter-
taining conversation in America." ^^ Again, he says of
her power over those she met: "Of personal influence,
speaking strictly, — an efflux, that is, purely of mind
and character, excluding all effects of power, wealth,
fashion, beauty, or literary fame — she had an extraor-;
dinary degree; I think more than any person I have
known." ^° That this could be said of one who had the
exceptional elements of repulsion noted in the begin-
ning of this portrait shows that we are dealing with a;
soul of unusual and fascinating interest.
Nor was Margaret's power over the hearts of others
merely an external, temporary, and social one. She
could not only startle and stimulate; where she chose,
she could inspire profound and lasting attachment. " I
at least," says Colonel Higginson, "have never known
any woman who left behind an affection so deep and
strong. It is now thirty years since her death, and
there is scarcely a friend of hers who does not speak
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 141
of her with as warm a devotion as if she had died yes-
terday." ^^ During a part of her life Margaret was a
teacher. She taught in various schools and in different
places. Under her teaching should also be included her
curious attempt to combine the methods of Greek acad-
emies and French salons in the public assemblies, held
in Boston, which she called conversations. It would be
easy to cite abundant ridicule of these latter perform-
ances. Miss Martineau and many others found them
terribly pedantic, and the element of pedantry was not
lacking in them. Yet it is incontestable that those who
came most under Margaret's influence, either in this
way or in her more formal teaching, found an inspira-
tion that lasted them for life. Her own comment on
her gifts hits us like a cold-water douche: "My great
talent at explanation, tact in the use of means, and im-
mediate and invariable power over the minds of my
pupils." ^^ But when one of the pupils says the same
thing, we cannot but accept it: "I had no idea that I
should esteem and, much more, love her. I found my-
self in a new world of thought; a flood of light irradi-
ated all that I had seen in nature, observed in life, or
read in books." ^^
And all this adoration was not dumb, remote, or
incapable of personal transference. What strikes one
142 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
most of all in Margaret's relation to her fellows is her
unusual faculty of eliciting confession from the most
varying sources. One does not commonly expect this
in persons of such pronounced and self-assertive tem-
perament. But it cannot be denied in her. Emerson
was immensely impressed by it : " She drew her com-
panions to surprising confessions." ^^ Another observer,
who had himself a similar experience, regards it as phe-
nomenal : " I judge that she was the repository of more
confidences than any contemporary," he says. " Women
who had known her but a day revealed to her the most
jealously guarded secrets of their lives. . . . Nor were
these revelations made only by those of her own plane
of life, but chambermaids and seamstresses unburdened
their souls to her, seeking and receiving her counsel;
while children found her a delightful playmate and a
capital friend." ^^
Various elements enter into the explanation of this
gift of Margaret's of drawing out others' souls. As to
one of these elements all observers unite: she never
betrayed a confidence that had been placed in her. But
there was far more to it than that, — she entered into
the lives and hearts of others with the widest imagina-
tive comprehension. She does, indeed, in a moment of
discouragement, deny herself sympathy: "a person all
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 143
Intellect and passion, no loveliness of character ; impetu-
ous, without tender sympathy." ^^ But even as to emo-
tional sympathy she belied herself. And her power of
understanding souls of all colors and complexions, of
entering into quick passion and aspiration as well as
slow despair, was almost unlimited. Under the surface
that seemed dull and dead to others she saw the glow-
ing spark and her breath kindled it into vital fire. She
made lives over. Especially she was "the interpreter
and savior of women," says Mrs. Cheney, "for there
was no questioning, no suffering, that had not passed
through the alembic of her imagination and thought,
if not of her actual experience. . . . The largeness of
her life and thoughts made her a great helper." ^^
With this largeness of life and thought we may pass
from Margaret's social and external relations with
others to the inner activity of her intelligence. It may
be said at once that hers was not above all a logically
creative mind. She thought out no speculative systems,
nor even gave herself with slow industry to criticizing
the systems of others. But her Intellect was keen, vivid.
Illuminating, — dashed right into the heart of a subject
144 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
or of a person, plucked out the essential nucleus for
herself and others to behold, and then passed on. She
hated prejudice and convention, wanted the primal ele-
ments of things, even things distressing and hateful.
"With her," she said of a friend, "1 can talk of any-
thing. She is like me. She is able to look facts in the
face."^^ And again, with bitter ardor: "In the cham-
ber of death, I prayed in very early years, ^Give me
truth ; cheat me by no illusion.' " ^^ She had a splendid
analytical power, which shows more in brief touches
from casual writings than in her formal works. Thus,
of a conversation with Emerson : " He is a much better
companion than formerly, — for once he would talk
obstinately through the walk, but now we can be silent
and see things together." ^*^ Or more generally: "We
need to hear the excuses men make to themselves for
As is natural and unavoidable, with a person who has
this gift of analysis, she applied it first of all and con-
stantly to herself. True, she felt that she accomplished
little and got nowhere, and this recognition is the surest
mark of her power. "I know little about the mystery
of life, and far less in myself than in others." ^^ Yet
she probed and probed, with inexhaustible, quiet, curious
diligence, and she is not one of the least profitable of
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 145
the anatomizers of soul. Hear her on the near ap-
proach of death. "On this subject I always feel that
I can speak with some certainty, having been on the
verge of bodily dissolution. I felt at that time disen-
gaged from the body, hovering, and calm."^^ Again
and again she speaks of herself with quiet detachment,
judging her own character and conduct, good and evil,
exactly as if she were appraising somebody else. One
who had long known her family says that they were
peculiar in speaking out openly all the things which we
commonly suppress about ourselves and express only
about other people. This was certainly true of Mar-
garet. For instance, when she writes to her brother,
urging him to make sacrifices for the younger children,
she points out all that she had given up for him. "I
do not say this to pain you, or to make you more grate-
ful to me (for, probably, if I had been aware at the
time what I was doing, I might not have sacrificed
As I have suggested earlier, it is to this exceptional
instinct of analysis and calm-eyed candor that we are
to attribute largely those violent expressions of egotism
which are so astonishing. When Margaret sighs, " Oh
that my friends would teach me that * simple art of not
too much ! ' How can I expect them to bear the cease-
146 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
less eloquence of my nature ?"^^ she is really sighing
and not posing at all. Indeed, with the perfectly candid
recognition of her powers, she combined often a yearn-
ing humility, a deep desire to correct herself of many
faults. How charming is the comment, in her earlier
love letters, on a friend who was inclined to criticize
her weaknesses — or excess of strength: "I think, too,
with one whose judgment I valued, I should receive
fault-finding in the spirit in which it was meant, and
if it gave me pain, should be more likely to mend than
many who take it more easily." ^^ While perhaps some-
thing even nobler and larger than humility permeates
the royal sentence, so often quoted but not too often,
" I feel as if there was plenty of room in the universe
for my faults, and as if I could not spend time in think-
ing of them, when so many things interest me more." ^"^
It is in connection with the profound study of her
own nature as well as of the nature of others that we
should consider her interesting and elaborate theories
of self -development, self-culture, constant spiritual
progress. In this she was no doubt greatly influenced
by Goethe, who was more of a force in her mental life
than any other figure of the past. It is easy to make
fun of such deliberate preoccupation with one's self, and
most of us will maintain that action rather than reflec-
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 147
tionis the true means of self-development. The greater
part of Hawthorne's savage and absurdly exaggerated
attack on Margaret is based upon a ludicrous over-
estimate of her attempts to revolutionize herself. "It
was such an awful joke, that she should have re-
solved — in all sincerity, no doubt — to make herself the
greatest, wisest, best woman of the age. And to that
end she set to work on her strong, heavy, unpliable,
and, in many respects, defective and evil nature, and
adorned it with a mosaic of admirable qualities, such
as she chose to possess ; putting in here a splendid talent
and there a moral excellence, and polishing each sepa-
rate piece, and the whole together, till it seemed to shine
afar and dazzle all who saw it. She took credit to her-
self for having been her own Redeemer, if not her own
No one who has carefully studied Margaret's own
letters or other writings, or the testimony of those who
knew her best, will for a moment accept seriously either
these or any other of Hawthorne's severe strictures
for more than an outburst of ill-temper. No two char-
acters could have been more different than Hawthorne's
and Margaret's, or, if they had some points of resem-
blance, they would have clashed on those resemblances
more than on their differences. As to the self-culture,
148 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
, too elaborate theories in this line have again and again
defeated themselves in their most intelligent and con-
scientious exponents. Margaret came to see this in the
end. Yet it cannot be denied that no effort was ever
more conscientious than hers. Nor can it be denied
that the effort was intelligently controlled and that it
effected probably as much as has ever been effected by
any human being. The constitutional disagreeableness
which I have suggested in beginning this study dimin-
ished constantly with the progress of years. The nar-
rowness of egotism, largely fostered in youth by seclu-
sion and excessive reading, yielded more and more to
the mellowing influences of wider contact with human-
ity. In her own noble phrase, she "unlearned con-
tempt " ; ^® and what positive learning can be finer or
more difficult than that ? While both positive and nega-
tive advancement are summed up in the earnest motto
which she adopted in her youth and clung to always,
however differently she may have come to interpret it:
" Very early I knew that the only object in life was to
It is hardly necessary to say that Margaret's theories
of culture included much more than mere book-learning.
Yet her achievements in this line were remarkable. Or
perhaps I should say that her powers were even more
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 149
remarkable than her achievements. She herself, in a
moment of unusual discouragement, declares: "I have
long thought my mind must be as shallow as it is
vapid." ^^ But it v^as certainly neither vapid nor shal-
low. A good judge, who' knew her well, speaks of " the
rapidity with which she appropriates all knowledge,
joined with habits of severe mental discipline (so rare
in women, and in literary men not technically 'men of
science')."*^ She could grasp the meaning of a book
swiftly, fit it to its place in the great scheme of thought
and spiritual movement, then hasten to something else,
perhaps quite different, and accomplish the same result
with equal ease and equal sureness.
Her actual possession of learning was far less than
Mrs. Ripley's. She had a less broad and exact com-
mand of languages; she took little interest in science,
and even in philosophy she could not be called an ex-
haustive student. To her, — and more and more as she
grew older, — books were but the interpreters of life,
and her keenest and most thoughtful study was given to
the hearts of men.
But the most interesting thing about her studies, as
about all her pursuits, is the passion with which she
threw herself into them. Her intellectual effort was
not a calm and steady flame, like Mrs. Ripley's, burn-
I50 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
ing unaltered and unshaken through all sorts of disturb-
ance and difficulty. She could not turn quietly and
serenely from astronomy to botany, from German to
mathematics, as convenience suggested and opportunity
offered. There were moments of spiritual exaltation
and enthusiasm. " I am living like an angel, and I don't
know how to get down." ^^ But these times were paid
for in exhaustion and depression and disgust. " I never
can do well more than one thing at a time, and the least
thing costs me so much thought and feeling; others
have no idea of it." ■** Above all, she lived in perpetual
distraction. A thousand cares were ever crowding upon
her, and when it was not external cares, it was spiritual
vexations and questions and perplexities. "I have
learned much and thought little," she complains, "an
assertion which seems paradoxical and is true. I faint
with desire to think . . . but some outward requisition
is ever knocking at the door of my mind and I am as
ill placed as regards a chance to think as a haberdasher's
prentice or the President of Harvard University."*^ So
she struggled onward in a constant turmoil of effort
and aspiration, and if her mental kingdom was in some
respects ill-coordinated and ill-regulated, at least she
was always mentally alive.
Alive, too, in other aspects of spiritual sensibility,
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 151
besides the merely intellectual. In painting and music,
as in thought, what strikes one is rather the effort and
passion of her appreciation than its amplitude and se-
curity. She touched the great artists widely and sought
and fought to make their achievement part of her soul,
but she never seems to have entered quite fully into
their calm perfection. The same is true of religion. It
is interesting and often pathetic to see her humble, earn-
est desire for the passion of the mystic and the Chris-
tian hope. "My mind often burns with thoughts on
these subjects and I long to pour out my soul to some
person of superior calmness and strength and fortunate
in more accurate knowledge. I should feel such a quiet-
ing reaction. But generally I think it is best I should
go through these conflicts alone." ^^ She went through
many of them and they resulted in the formulation of the
curious "Credo," — not printed until very recently, —
which aims at an exactness of definition such as neither
Emerson nor Goethe would ever have attempted. Doc-
trinally it has little interest. As throwing psychological
light on Margaret it has much, for example in the
splendid and characteristic phrase: "For myself, I be-
lieve in Christ because I can do without him."*'^
But the charm of Margaret's sensibility and depth of
spiritual emotion shows much better in simpler things
152 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
than in these more pretentious regions of art and
thought. She felt the natural world with peculiar so-
lemnity and intensity. This is evident in her own curi-
ous account of the experience of being lost alone for
a whole night amid the Highland mountains. It is
much more evident in briefer references to New Eng-
land woods and flowers and fields. You could not find
a better antidote to Hawthorne's harsh judgment than
this delicate picture of open-air life: "Many, many
sweet little things would I tell you, only they are so
very little. I feel just now as if I could live and die
here. I am out in the open air all the time except about
two hours in the early morning. And now the moon
is fairly gone late in the evening. While she was here,
we staid out, too. Everything seems sweet here, so
homely, so kindly ; the old people chatting so contentedly,
the young men and girls laughing together in the fields
— not vulgarly, but in the true kinsfolk way, — little
children singing in the house and beneath the berry-
bushes."^^ Or take another in which the sense of
natural beauty rises into passion: "One night when I
was out bathing at the foot of the tall rock, the waters
rippling up so gently, the ships gliding full-sailed and
dreamy-white over a silver sea, the crags above me with
their dewy garlands and the little path stealing awa^
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 153
in shadow, oh, it was almost too beautiful to bear and
When one reads these things, one wonders why Mar-
garet did not leave a greater name in actual literature,
why her very numerous writings are not more read
to-day. This is partly owing, no doubt, to the ephem-
eral nature of her subjects, — travel pictures, controver-
sial essays, criticisms of authors who have not lived
themselves. Even in these buried articles there is much
shrewd observation that deserves better than to be for-
gotten. Still, it must be admitted that her formal,
printed works do not do her justice. She was better
than any of them, and she knew it. She would have
liked literary glory and success, none more so. But
she had a proud assurance that there was something
finer in her than had ever come out. She would not,
indeed, have used of herself, nor would we quite have
her use, her own words as to a minor writer: "What
he does is bad, but full of a great desire." ^^ But she
does say, as pathetically as justly: "I feel within my-
self an immense power, but I cannot bring it out."^*
And even better is the noble prophecy which we still
believe that the future will maintain: "My health is
frail; my earthly life is shrunk to a scanty rill; I am
little better than an aspiration, which the ages will re-
154 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
ward, by empowering me to incessant acts of vigorous
beauty." ^^ It was as such an inspiration that she es-
tabHshed her conspicuous place among the writers for
the ''Dial" and the group of transcendentahsts who
made New England famous in the middle of the nine-
We have yet to uncover Margaret's heart, to pass deeper
from her social and worldly aspect and her intellectual
and literary interests to the passion and the struggle
of the woman.
To begin with, she was a lover, always a lover, even
from her childhood. In her own family, her father,
stern like herself with Puritan self-restraint, though he
was proud of her and taught her and developed her, did
not give her all the tenderness she needed. How much
she needed it appears in the passionate words she wrote
long after his death : " I recollect how deep the anguish,
how deeper still the want, with which I walked alone
in hours of childish passion and called for a Father,
after saying the word a hundred times." ^^ The same
depth of tenderness she gave in full measure to her
brothers and sisters.
And the tenderness was not mere sentiment but
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 155
showed in practical action. Mr. Fuller's death left his
family much cramped financially, and Margaret was
forced to deny herself, and did deny herself without
hesitation, the spiritual opportunities she so much craved
that her brothers and sisters might have proper educa-
tion and advantages. "Let me now try to forget my-
self and act for others' sakes,"^^ she wrote, and she
acted as she wrote. She taught the younger children;
she did the mending and the cooking; she took care of
her mother, who was often ill, and of her grandmother,
who was so always.
She was not only a zealous manager, but a prudent
and intelligent one. She understood extremely well the
value of money, knew how to husband it, and how to
spend it so as to make it go farthest and buy most.
She supplied her brothers with caution, yet with wide
liberality, considering her limitations. Above all, she
stinted herself that she might give, not only in her
family but far without. "Her charities, according to
her means, were larger than those of any other whom I
ever knew," ^^ writes one who had much experience of
Margaret — and of others. Even the bitter words
wrung from her in the anguish of the last miserable
years show only what her generosity had been and what
we are sure it was still. "My love for others had
156 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
turned against me. I had given to other sufferers what
I now needed for myself so deeply, so terribly; I shall
never again be perfectly, be religiously generous; I
understand why others are not. I am worse than
And her human tenderness extended far beyond her
own family. We have seen that she wanted to be ad-
mired and praised and worshiped. She wanted to be
loved, also, and perhaps this was really at the root of
the less commendable instinct. Amidst all the popu-
larity and social compliment she keenly appreciated wha'E
affection was, — just common affection. "Around my
path how much humble love has flowed. These every-
day friends never forget my heart, never censure me,
make no demands on me, load me with gifts and serv-
ices, and, uncomplaining, see me prefer my intellectual
kindred."^'' She wanted to give love, too, as well as
get it. She knew well at all times of her life that
aching emptiness which only an overpowering devotion
can fill. Do we not get a glimpse of it in the quiet
words describing one contact with youth and beauty?
" She was a lovely child then, and happy, but my heart
ached, and I lived in just the way I do now." ^^
Nothing throws more light on this human craving
than Margaret's relation with the good Emerson. They
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 157
sought and admired each other and got and gave much.
But Emerson, who so abounded in kindness, was per-
haps somewhat Hmited in the blind longings of the heart.
He speaks of "the romantic sacrifice and ecstatic
fusion "^^ of Margaret's friendships, with a humorous
acceptance of incomprehension. Margaret herself com-
plains of his coldness, of his incapacity for the highest
surrender. "He met men, not as a brother, but as a
critic." ^^ And it would be amusing, if it were not
pathetic, to see her dissatisfaction reflected in Emer-
son's account of it. She called his friendship commer-
cial, he says, felt that he could not prize affection unless
it chattered, weighed love by what he got from it only.
He quotes her very words : " The deepest love that ap-
proached you was, in your eyes, nothing but a magic
lantern, always bringing out pretty shows of life."^^
Some of us to-day feel too keenly what Margaret meant.
But, all the same, how noble and beautiful is the humil-
ity of Emerson's comment: "As I did not understand
the discontent then, — of course, I cannot now." ^^
The question naturally arises, how about love with
Margaret in the ordinary sense, how about her relations
with men who were not simply friend's and philosophers ?
In her earlier years there is no definite trace of any-
thing of the sort. She had few of the attractions which
158 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
draw young men and none of the coquetry which seeks
to draw them. Her youthful letters and reminiscences
do not indicate any affection, requited or unrequited.
Then, in 1844, when she was well over thirty, she fell
in with a brilliant member of the Jewish race, and for
a year she kept up a correspondence with him, which
has been printed by Mrs. Howe, and which shows Mar-
garet as deeply and sentimentally in love as any school-
It is true that the old egotism still hangs about her.
Her dear companion is the first she " ever had who could
feel every little shade of life and beauty as exquisitely
as myself."®^ But she relishes even the shock to ego-
tism which comes with the self-abandonment of this
new tenderness. She finds a strange thrill of pleasure
in the lover's admonition, "You must be a fool, little
girl."^^ She indulges in all the fantastic freaks of
amorous imagination, the ardor for an impossible union,
the frantic questionings, the idle self-tormentings, — not
one of the old, well-known symptoms is missing. And
to complete all, she assumes, as usual, that they are first
known to her. As the gay French comedy puts it. En
voila encore une qui croit avoir invent e I' amour.
Yet even these love-letters, earnest as they are, genu-
ine as they are, and most important in the light they
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 159
throw upon Margaret's character, are not wholly free
from a suggestion of literature. When the infatuation
is over, her characteristic comment is: ''I shall write
a sketch of it and turn the whole to account in a lit-
erary way, since the affections and ideal hopes are so
unproductive." ^^ There had been more head than heart
in the matter, and to touch the deepest secrets of her
nature required a different temperament from that of
the brilliant Jew. After a few months' sojourn in Italy,
she found such a temperament, certainly very different,
in the Marquis Ossoli, whom she married secretly at
the close of the year 1847. Judgments about Ossoli are
somewhat varying. The utter brutality of a comment
recorded by Hawthorne defeats itself and suggests some
obscure ground of prejudice. According to this view
the marquis had no claim even to good-breeding, let
alone intelligence, " in short, half an idiot, and without
any pretension to be a gentleman," ^® and Margaret mar-
ried him simply from curiosity and weariness. Such
an extreme statement cannot stand a moment against
other evidence. It is clear that Margaret's husband was
not literary or a scholar. She had doubtless seen quite
enough of that sort of gentry in her varied career. But
there is no doubt that he was a high-minded, dignified
gentleman, and that he was devoted to her with an at-
i6o PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
tachment which, coming from a temperament like his, is
in itself strong testimony to the nobleness of her char-
acter. As for the ever-increasing depth of her regard
for him, it is apparent whenever she mentions his name.
She was nearly forty years old ; she had been through a
wide variety of emotional experiences; she knew the hu-
man heart, and here she had found one whose grave
earnestness and loyal affection could be counted upon
in every trial. " Simple, true, delicate, and retiring,"
she calls him, in well-weighed w^ords, and adds, " while
some of my friends have thought me exacting, Ossoli
has outgone my expectations in the disinterestedness,
the uncompromising bounty, of his every action." ^'^
Then she became a mother, and yet one more pro-
found chamber of her heart was opened. She had al-
ways loved children and had had a peculiar power of
drawing their confidence, as that of their elders. She
longed for motherhood, "my heart was too suffocated
without a child of my own."^^ Yet she longed with
an unusual and beautiful humility: "I am too rough
and blurred an image of the Creator, to become a be-
stower of life." ^^ When her son was born, she seemed
almost to forget her existence in his. Her brain was
all plans for rearing and guiding and helping him. His
illness shakes her faith more than anything else had ever
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI i6i
done before. His health and gayety make her gay when
all is troubled around her.
For these strange, new experiences had come to her
in a troubled world. Her husband was thickly con-
cerned in the Italian revolution, and she herself gave
all her natural ardor to the coming of a new era in the
country she had loved and known so well. As battles
were fought and men were wounded and suffering, she
visited the hospitals, comforted the dying, cheered and
tended the long and solitary hours of recover}^ "A
mild saint and ministering angel: that seems to have
been the impression made by her at Rome upon those
who knew her well," "^^ writes one friend. She shrinks
at first: "I had no idea before, how terrible gunshot-
wounds' and wound-fever are " ; ''^ but these tremors are
instantly overcome, and she shows the same power over
the cruder forms of human suffering that she had
tendered to the wayward struggles of the spirit. " How
long will the Signora stay? When will the Signora
come again ?"^^ was the eager murmur from the hearts
she had cheered and comforted.
It will be asked, where was the old Margaret, the
disagreeable Margaret, the harsh, dominating, self-
willed egotism? Not wholly dead, doubtless. She her-
self says: "In the foundation of my character, in my
i62 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
aims I am always the same."^^ So are we all. But
at least her heart had been immensely changed and
modified by love and pity. She had suffered in life
far more than she had enjoyed, she says, and suffering
changes all hearts one way or the other. Ambition?
She still cherishes it in a manner, still hopes to be a
great writer, plans a history of the noble doings in Italy,
which was lost with her, to the regret of many. Self-
culture, all the fine Goethean theories ? Oh, perhaps she
has them, but she has at last come to know the great
secret, — that the height of self-culture is to forget
culture and to forget self; that he that loseth his
life shall find it. And in the pity of her struggle —
struggle with health, struggle with narrow circum-
stances, struggle with war and the ruins of war — her
courage almost ebbs away in a languishing cry : '*' Yes ; I
am weary, and faith soars and sings no more. Nothing
is left good of me, except at the bottom of the heart a
melting tenderness." ^^ Surely a strange utterance from
the haughty spirit of earlier years.
So the high Italian dream was over. There was noth-
ing left for Margaret and her husband among his people,
and her thoughts turned again to home. She would
go back to America, would strive once more to gain
recognition of her powers, aiming rather at others'
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI 163
profit than her own. She accepted the task, made such
preparations as she could. But her heart was heavy,
weighed down with undue, unreasonable fear. *'I am
become a miserable coward. I fear heat and cold and
even mosquitoes. I fear terribly the voyage home, fear
biting poverty." '^^ Everything connected with her jour-
ney seemed to turn into sad omen, or so she read it in
her doubting soul. At the very last moment the fore-
boding was so heavy that she found it difficult to force
herself to go on board the vessel. She did so, and all
her fears were realized. She passed the Atlantic safely,
only to be wrecked on Fire Island beach in July, 1850.
We need not analyze the extensive investigations and
confused narratives of the final disaster. It is enough to
know that Margaret perished with her husband and
child, as she would have wished.
It was a pathetic, tragic end to a tragic career. We
certainly cannot say that Margaret's life was wasted
when we appreciate her immense influence upon her con-
temporaries and those who came after her. Yet it does
not seem as if her achievement matched her powers.
She was a woman of marvelous complexity, like all
women, and all men, and her complexity strikes you
with tenfold force because she went out like a candle
when a window is suddenly opened into great night.
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
Louisa May Alcott.
Bom in Germantown, Pennsylvania, November 29, 1832.
Grew up mainly in Concord and Boston.
Nursed in Washington hospitals, 1 862-1 863.
"Little Women" published October, i^
In Europe, 1865-1866 and 1870-1871,
Died March 6, il
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
Her father thought himself a philosopher. His family
agreed with him. So did his friend and contemporary,
Emerson, and a few others. He was at any rate a phi-
losopher in his complete inability to earn or to keep
money. Her mother was by nature a noble and charm-
ing woman, by profession a household drudge. Louisa
and her three sisters were born in odd corners between
1830 and 1840 and grew up in Concord and elsewhere.
They knew a little, quite enough, about philosophy and a
great deal about drudgery. Louisa determined in early
youth to eschew philosophy and drudgery both, to be in-
dependent, and to earn an honest livelihood for herself
and her family. She did it, wrote books that charmed
and paid, and died wornout before she was old, but with
a comfortable lapful of glory.
I do not mean to imply that the Alcotts' poverty was
sordid or pitiable. Innate dignity of character, sweet-
ness and natural cheerfulness, kept it from being any-
thing of the kind. If they had not money, they had high
i68 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
ideals; and high ideals afford a certain substitute for
comfort, after they have thrust it out of doors. No
doubt, also, the rugged discipline of privation fits souls
better for the ups and downs of life, which, for most
men and women, mean more hardship than comfort.
At the same time, to understand Louisa Alcott, what
she did and what she was, we must keep the bitterness
of youthful poverty before us, the perpetual struggle to
get clothes and food and other necessaries, the burden of
debts and charity, the fret and strain of nerves worn
with anxiety and endeavor, the endless uncertainty
about the future. " It was characteristic of this family
that they never were conquered by their surroundings," *
says the biographer. This is true ; yet such experiences
fray the edges of the soul, when they do not impair its
substance. Louisa's soul was frayed. Poverty bit her
like a north wind, spurred to effort, yet chilled and tor-
tured just the same. " Little Lu began early to feel the
family cares and peculiar trials," ^ she says of her child-
hood. In her young-womanhood, when just beginning
to see her way, she is hampered in the walks she likes
because of "stockings with a profusion of toe, but no
heel, and shoes with plenty of heel, but a paucity of
toe." ^ Later still, when the world ought to have been
going well with her, her cry is, " If I think of my woes
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 169
I fall into a vortex of debts, dishpans, and despondency
awful to see." *
The nature of these troubles and the depth of them
were specially evident to her, because she was born with
a shrewd native wit and keen intelligence. Her edu-
cation was somewhat erratic, furnished mainly by her
father from his wide but heterogeneous store and with
eccentric methods. From her childhood she was an im-
petuous reader, of all sorts of books anS in all sorts of
ways and places. She read stories and poems, and more
serious writings, when the whim seized her. Goethe, for
example, she liked early and praised late, though I do
not know that much of Goethe is to be seen in her life or
in her best-known books. Above all, she employed her
brain for practical objects, loved mental method and
tidiness. "I used to imagine my mind a room in con-
fusion, and I was to put it in order ; so I swept out use-
less thoughts and dusted foolish fancies away, and
furnished it with good resolutions and began again. But
cobwebs get in. I 'm not a good housekeeper, and never
get my room in nice order." ^ And with the same practi-
cal tendency she analyzed all things about her and all
men and women. Her father's various contacts brought
many people to his door, and Louisa learned early to
distinguish. "A curious jumble of fools and philoso-
170 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
phers," ® she says calmly of one of his beloved clubs. No
doubt she would have given the same verdict on the
world in general and with the same wise caution as to
deciding the proportions. Nor was she less ready to
analyze herself, as portrayed in one of her stories.
"Much describing of other people's passions and feel-
ings set her to studying and speculating about her own
— a morbid amusement, in which healthy young minds
do not voluntarily indulge." "^
What marked her character in all this was honesty,
sincerity, straightforward simplicity. Like Jo in " Little
Women," who follows her creatress so closely, Louisa,
as a child, had more of the boy than of the girl about
her, did not care for frills or flounces, did not care for
dances or teas, liked fresh air and fresh thoughts and
hearty quarrels and forgetful reconciliations. She
would shake your hand and look in your eye and make
you trust her. Jo's wild words were always getting her
into scrapes. " Oh, my tongue, my abominable tongue !
Why can't I learn to keep it quiet? "^ So she sighed,
and so Louisa had often sighed before her. But with
the outspokenness went a splendid veracity and a loath-
ing for what was false or mean or cowardly. " With all
her imagination and romance. Miss Alcott was a tre-
mendous destroyer of illusions,"^ says Mrs. Cheney;
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 171
"Oh, wicked L. M. A., who hates sham and loves a
joke," ^^ says Miss Alcott herself.
The disposition to excessive analysis and great frank-
ness in expressing the results of the same are not
especially favorable to social popularity or success, and
it does not appear that Louisa had these things or wished
to have them. Here again Jo renders her creatress very
faithfully. She was perfectly capable of having a jolly
time in company ; in fact, when she was in the mood and
with those she liked, she could be full of fun and frolic,
could lead everybody in wild laughter and joyous pranks
and merriment. She could run into a party of strangers
at the seashore and be gay with them. " Found a family
of six pretty daughters, a pleasant mother, and a father
who was an image of one of the Cheeryble brothers.
Had a jolly time boating, driving, charading, dancing,
and picnicking. One mild moonlight night a party of us
camped out on Norman's Woe, and had a splendid time,
lying on the rocks singing, talking, sleeping, and riot-
ing up and down."^^ But usually she was shy with
strangers, perhaps shyer with people she knew or half
knew, had no patience with starched fashions or fine
manners, liked quiet, old garments, old habits, and espe-
cially the society of her own soul. She complains that
her sister " does n't enjoy quiet corners as I do," ^" and
172 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
she complains further, through the mouth of Jo, that
" it's easier for me to risk my life for a person than to be
pleasant to him when I don't feel like it." ^^
With this disposition we might expect her to have a
small list of friends, but those very near and dear. I do
not find it so. " She did not encourage many intima-
cies," says Mrs. Cheney. Though reasonably indifferent
to the conventions, she would not have inclined to keep
up any especially confidential relations with men. As for
women, she wrote of her younger days, "Never liked
girls, or knew many, except my sisters." ^^ If she did
not make women friends in her youth, she was not likely
to in age.
All her affection, all her personal devotion, seem to
have been concentrated upon her family, and from child-
hood till death her relations with them were close and
unbroken. How dearly she loved her sisters shines
everywhere through the faithful family picture pre-
served in " Little Women," and the peculiar tenderness
Jo gave to Beth is but an exact reflection of what the
real Elizabeth received from the real Louisa. In " Little
Women " the affection is made only more genuine by the
trifling tiffs and jars which always occur in nature, if
not always in books. So in Louisa's journal her admir-
able frankness carefully records an occasional freak or
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 173
sparkle of irritation or jealously. "I feel very moral
to-day, having done a big wash alone, baked, swept the
house, picked the hops, got dinner, and written a chapter
in ' Moods.' May gets exhausted with work, though she
walks six miles without a murmur." ^^ Again, of the
same younger sister: "How different our lives are just
now! — I so lonely, sad, and sick; she so happy, well
and blest. She always had the cream of things, and de-
served it. My time is yet to come somewhere else, when
I am ready for it." ^^ Perhaps the sympathy between Jo
and Amy in the story was less complete than in the case
of the older sisters. Yet the chief interest of Louisa's
later years was her love for the child her sister May had
For her father, as for her sisters, she cherished a
devoted attachment. No doubt in this, as in the other,
there were human flaws. At times she implies a gentle
wish that he might have done a little more for the com-
fort of his family even if a little less for their eternal
salvation. But this was momentary. Her usual atti-
tude was one of tender and affectionate devotion, of
entire and reverent appreciation of that pure and un-
worldly spirit. Emerson tells her that her father might
have talked with Plato. ^^ She is delighted and thinks
of him as Plato and often calls him Plato afterward.
174 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
How admirable in its blending of elements is her pic-
ture of his return from one of his unprofitable wan-
derings: "His dress was neat and poor. He looked
cold and thin as an icicle, but serene as God."^^ To
her he was God in a manner, and with reasonable dis-
But with her mother there seem to have been no dis-
counts whatever. The affection between them was per-
fect and holy and enduring. Her mother understood
her, — all her wild ways and lawless desires and weak-
nesses and untrimmed strength. It was to her mother
that she turned in joy and trouble, and in both she never
failed to find the response she looked for. After her
mother's death she writes : " I never wish her back, but
a great warmth seems gone out of life, and there is no
motive to go on now." ^^ Yet if there was nothing left
to do, there was comfort in the thought of what she had
done. For she was able to write, a few years before,
"Had the pleasure of providing Marmee with many]
comforts, and keeping the hounds of care and debt from
worrying her. She sits at rest in her sunny room, and
that is better than any amount of fame to me." ^°
So we see that when Jo cried, in her enthusiastic
fashion, " I do think that families are the most beautiful
things in all the world ! " ^^ it was a simple transcript
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 175
from nature. Also, it is most decidedly to be observed
that Louisa's regard for her family was by no means
mere sentiment, but a matter of strenuous practical
effort. Indeed, it is not certain that the conscientious
sense of duty is not even more prominent in her domestic
relations than affection itself. " Duty's faithful child," ^^
her father called her, and the faithfulness of her duty
meant more to him and his than anything else in the
world. I have dwelt already upon her poignant appre-
ciation of the hardships and privations of her childhood.
Though she bore these with reasonable patience, she
early and constantly manifested a distinct determina-
tion to escape from them. "I wish I was rich, I was good,
and we were all a happy family this day." ^^ Note even
here that the wish is general and that she wants to save
them all from trials as well as herself. Her own comfort
and ease she was ready to sacrifice and did sacrifice. Did
May need a new bonnet ? She should have it and Louisa
would get on with a refurbished old one. Did money
come in somewhat more freely? Louisa got mighty little
of it herself. There were so many mouths to fill and
clothes to buy and bills to pay. She would give any-
thing and give up anything that she had to give or give
up. The sacrifice of hair, which Jo accomplished with
so many tears, was not actually achieved in Louisa's
176 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
case, but she was ready to make it, — and who doubt's
that she would have made it ?
Yet she did not relish sacrifice, or ugly things, or petty
dependence. She was bound to get out of the rut she
was born in; how, she did not care, so long as she did
nothing dishonest or unworthy. Debts, ■ — she certainly
would not have debts ; but comfort she would have and
would pay for it. She would prove that "though an
Alcott I can support myself." ^^ When she was but a
child she went out alone into the fields, and vowed with
bitter energy: "I will do something by-and-by. Don't
care what, teach, sew, act, write, anything to help the
family; and I '11 be rich and famous and happy before I
die, see if I won't." ^^
It wou13 be of course quite false to imply that Miss
Alcott was a wholly practical, even mercenary, person,
who lived and wrote for money only, or that the rugged
experiences of her youth had crushed out of her sensi-
bility and grace and imagination and all the varied
responses which are supposed to constitute the artistic
temperament. It is true, she had one artistic represen-
tative in her family, and the consciousness of old bon-
nets refurbished on that account may have somewhat re-
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 177
pressed the genial flow of sesthetic impulse in her own
character. But she had abundance of wayward emotion,
nevertheless, and if she subdued it in one form, it es-
caped in another. " Experiences go deep with me,"^® she
said, and it was true. It does not appear that she had
any especial taste for the arts. Painting she refers to
occasionally with mild enthusiasm, music with little
more. Perhaps we cannot quite take the Lavinia of
"Shawl Straps" as autobiographical, but her journal
sounds uncommonly like Louisa: "Acres of pictures.
Like about six out of the lot :" ^'' again, " I am glad to
have seen this classical cesspool (Rome), and still more
glad to have got out of it alive." ^^ Nature appealed to
her, of course, as it must have done to the child of Con-
cord and the worshiper of Emerson. Still, the rendering
of it in her writings, "Flower Stories," etc., and even
in the best of her poems, " Thoreau's Flute," cannot be
said to be profound. Her nature feeling is much more
attractive in the brief touches of her Journal : " I had an
early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass.
The moss was like velvet, and as I ran under the arches
of yellow and red leaves I sang for joy, my heart was so
bright and the world so beautiful." ^^ Also, she had a
keen sense of the pleasant and graceful ornaments of
life, all the more keen because her childhood had been so
178 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
barren of such things. "How I wish I could be with
you, enjoying what I have always longed for, — fine
people, fine amusements, and fine books." ^*^ She liked
these things, though she liked other things still more.
'' I love luxury, but freedom and independence better." ^^
Her sensibility and quick emotion showed, however,
far less in artistic enjoyment than in the inner play
and shifting movements of her own spirit. The sudden
variety of nature she sees reflected in herself. " It was
a mild, windy day, very like me in its fitful changes of
sunshine and shade." ^^ She was a creature of moods
and fancies, smiles and tears, hopes and discourage-
ments, as we all are, but more than most of us. From her
childhood she liked to wander, had roaming limbs and
a roaming soul. She "wanted to see every thing, do
every thing, and go every where." ^^ She loved move-
ment, activity, boys' sports and boys' exercise: "I al-
ways thought I must have been a deer or a horse in some
former state, because it was such a joy to run." ^* Then
she got tired and got cross, and when she was young
said bitter things and repented them, and when she grew
older would have liked to say them and repented that
also. And the ill-temper shifted suddenly and madly to
laughter, merry drollery, wild sallies, quips, and teasing
frolics, full well remembered by lovers of "Little
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 179
Women." "The jocosity of my nature will gush out
when it gets a chance," ^^ she says.
Sometimes the same wild spirit would rise higher into
a state of eager exhilaration and excitement. She longed
for change, adventure, even suffering. She put melo-
drama into her stories; she would have liked to put it
into her life. When the future seems peculiarly uncer-
tain, she writes : "It 's a queer way to live, but dramatic,
and I rather like it ; for we never know what is to come
next."^^ And again follows the reaction and depres-
sion, as deep as the excitement was high and exhila-
rating, depression far more serious than mere super-
ficial temper, seizing and shaking the root-fibers of the
soul. In her more elaborate novels, " Moods " and " A
Modern Mephistopheles," she has analyzed these spir-
itual variations, perhaps with some exaggeration, but
with an evident autobiographical basis ; and her heroine's
miseries certainly reflect her own. Tears she does not
often yield to, but when she weeps, she does it thor-
oughly: "As I seldom indulge in this moist misery, I
like to enjoy it with all my might, when I do." ^''
Her active conscience prompts her to resist, to bear up
against real trial and the still worse monotony of every-
day care. There is an education for her in grief, she
says ; she must make the best of it and profit by it. There
i8o PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
is a pleasure in drudgery, she says, if one can only find
it. " A dull, heavy month, grubbing in the kitchen, sew-
ing, cleaning house, and trying to like my duty." ^^ But
she does n't like it, and it wears, and the immortal spirit
loses its lightness and its freshness and is almost ready
to give up the fight : " So every day is a battle, and I 'm
so tired I don't want to live ; only it 's cowardly to die till
you have done something." ^^ Even, on one dark day,
all further struggle came to seem impossible, and as she
passed the running tide on her way to Boston, she almost
made up her mind not to pass it. But she did, and her
"fit of despair was soon over . . . and I went home
resolved to take Fate by the throat and shake a living
out of her."**^ Afterwards the little experience served
to make a story, as it has done for other writers and
It will be asked how far matters of the heart entered
into these depressions and despairs in Miss Alcott's
case. Directly, not very much. It is true that in the
story just referred to she suggests love or the lack of it as
the exciting cause for suicide. " It is not always want,
insanity, or sin that drives women to desperate deaths;
often it is a dreadful loneliness of heart, a hunger for
home and friends, worse than starvation, a bitter sense
of wrong in being denied the tender ties, the pleasant
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT i8i
duties, the sweet rewards that can make the himiblest life
happy." ^^ But there is no indication that, in her own case,
any disappointed love, any ungratified longing, was added
to the otherwise sufficient cares that weighed down her
mercurial spirit. Though the story of Jo is so largely au-
tobiographical, the marriage to Professor Bhaer, in itself
not exceptionally romantic, is pure invention, and there
is nothing else to show that Louisa's heart was ever seri-
ously touched. She had at least one offer of marriage,
and considered accepting it as another form of self-sacri-
fice for the benefit of her suffering family.*^ From this,
even more disastrous than the projected tonsorial mar-
tyrdom, she was happily dissuaded ; and if other similar
opportunities occurred, they are not mentioned.
She would even have us believe — and so would her
biographer — that she took little interest in love matters
and introduced them in her books for purposes of sale
and popular success. "She always said that she got
tired of everybody," says Mrs. Cheney, "and felt sure
that she should of her husband if she married." ^^ Miss
Alcott herself expresses some interest in possible children
of her own and a certain admiration for babies, but she
has observed that few marriages are happy ones *^ and
she thinks that " liberty is a better husband than love to
many of us." ^^
i82 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
This may be all very true. Nevertheless, it will hardly
be denied that many of her stories reek with amorous-
ness. Perhaps this was precisely because the subject
did not naturally interest her, and, being anxious to deal
with it enough to please the public and make money, she
dealt with it too much. But the explanation seems rather
far-fetched, and I am inclined to believe that she had all
a woman's interest in lovers, whatever may have been
her opinion of husbands. Her references to personal
appearance, both her own and others', show a due sensi-
tiveness to natural charms and to their possible appeal
to the other sex. If she looks in the glass, she tries " to
keep down vanity about my long hair, my well-shaped
head, and my good nose,"*^ but she is sufficiently aware
of their attraction, all the same. Indeed, in her vicari-
ous love-making there is a curious, teasing insistence
that suggests far more than a mere mercenary preoccu-
pation ; and in the serious novels, into which she put her
best artistic effort, the almost feverish eroticism would
seem to indicate, as with other unmarried writers, a
constant presence of the woman in her extreme fem-
ininity, however obscure and unacknowledged.
As Miss Alcott had all the sensitiveness, the whims
and shifts of mood, the eccentric possibilities, of the
born artist, so she was by no means without the artist's
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 183
instinct of ambition and desire for fame. From child-
hood she wanted to do something that would make her
great and distinguished and a figure in the mouths and
hearts of men. She wanted to act; wrote plays and pro-
duced them in the parlor, as Jo did ; had visions of oper-
atic and theatrical triumphs. She envied the successes
of great authors. When she read "Jane Eyre," she
writes : " I can't be a C. B., but I may do a little something
yet."^^ Her young friends tease her about being an
authoress. She assures them that she will be, though
she adds modestly to herself, " Will if I can, but some-
thing else may be better for me."^^ Not only has she
the theory of authorship, but all her emotions and desires
and fancies naturally seek literary expression. When
she was a child, she wrote verses for the pure delight of
it, — not great verses certainly, but they pleased and re-
lieved her. When she stood at the other extreme of life,
she wrote verses still. " Father and I cannot sleep, but
he and I make verses as we did when Marmee died." '^^
When she was weary or overwrought, she turned to
her pen for distraction, if not for comfort. "Began
a book called ' Genius.' Shall never finish it, I dare say,
but must keep a vent for my fancies to escape at."^°
She viewed life from the artist's angle also, took it
impersonally in its larger relations as well as in its imme-
i84 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
diate appeal to her. She notes early in her Journal that
she began to see the strong contrasts and the fun and
follies in every-day life. She always saw them and al-
ways had the strong impulse to turn them into litera-
ture. And her methods were not mechanical, did not
savor of the shop or the workbench. In the interesting
account of them which she jotted down in later years
the marked flavor of inspiration and artistic instinct is
apparent. She never had a study, she says, writes with
any pen or paper that come to hand, always has a head
full of plots and a heart full of passions, works them
over at odd moments and writes them down from mem-
ory, as fancy and convenience dictate. Quiet she wants,
and solitude, if possible, and a stimulating environment,
or at least not a deadening one. " Very few stories writ-
ten in Concord; no inspiration in that dull place. Go to
Boston, hire a quiet room and shut myself in it."^^
If the creative impulse possesses her, it possesses her
wholly. When she can work, she can't wait, she says.
Sleep is of no consequence, food is of no consequence.
She can't work slowly. The ideas boil and bubble and
must find their vent. When she was writing her favorite
" Moods," there was no rest for her. She was tied to her
desk day after day. Her family alternately praised and
worried. Her mother administered tea and her father
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 185
red apples, " All sorts of fun was going on ; but I did n't
care if the world returned to chaos if I and my inkstand
only ' lit ' in the same place." ^^ Then, after the excite-
ment of labor came the excitement of glory. Men and
women, well known in her world at any rate, crowded
to praise and compliment. " I liked it, but think a small
dose quite as much as is good for me; for after sitting
in a corner and grubbing a la Cinderella, it rather turns
one's head to be taken out and be treated like a princess
all of a sudden." ^^
Nor did she lack the discouragement and depression
inseparable from all artistic effort. There were the end-
less external difficulties which every artist knows and
none but artists much sympathize with: the frets, the
home cares, always so much accentuated in the case of a
woman, even when she is unmarried, the perpetual, the
trivial, and more harassing because trivial, interrup-
tions. Idle neighbors chat of idle doings; hours slip
away; when at last the free hour and the quiet spot are
found, weary nerves have no longer any inspiration left
in them. Of one of her books that she loved she says
pathetically : " Not what it should be, — too many inter-
ruptions. Should like to do one book in peace, and see
if it would n't be good." ^* On another occasion she gets
ready for a fit of work. Then John Brown's daughters
i86 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
come to board ; arrangements have to be made for them
and their comfort provided for. Louisa cries out her
sorrow on the fat ragbag in the garret and sets to work
at housekeeping, " I think disappointment must be good
for me, I get so much of it ; and the constant thumping
Fate gives me may be a mellowing process ; so I shall be
a ripe and sweet old pippin before I die." ^^
Yet the books get done somehow. Only, when they
are done, the troubles seem just begun rather than
ended. Publishers are refractory, such being their na-
ture, like that of other human beings. Stories are ac-
cepted and all seems triumphant. But they do not come
out; instead, are held back by long and quite needless
delays, till it is evident that the world is criminally in-
different to works that are bound to be immortal. " All
very aggravating to a young woman with one dollar, no
bonnet, half a gown, and a discontented mind."^^
Perhaps worst of all, when you do achieve success and
are read and admired, there comes the deadly doubt
about the value of your own work; for, however much
they may resent the faultfinding of others, authors who
really count are their own severest critics ; and of all the
sorrows of the literary life none is keener than the feel-
ing that what you have done is far enough from what
you would have liked to do. In this point, also, Miss
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 187
Alcott was an author, and she often indicates what she
expressed freely in regard to some of her minor works.
"They were not good, and though they sold the paper
I was heartily ashamed of them . . . I 'm glad of the
lesson, and hope it will do me good."^^
So we may safely conclude that it was not only hard
necessity that drove her to write, but that if she had
grown up in all comfort and with abundant means always
at her command, she would still have felt the teasing im-
pulses of the literary instinct, still have bound herself to
the staid drudgery of ink and paper and been slave to the
high hopes and deep despairs which mean life — and
death — to those who are born with the curious long-
ing to create things beautiful.
As it was, however, there can be no doubt that the solid
need of earning money was the chief and enduring spur
of her literary effort. She was not essentially and first of
all a preacher, as was Mrs. Stowe. Some may disagree
about this, considering the extreme moralizing of many,
not to say all, of her stories. The moralizing is evident
and undeniable. She not only took pains to avoid what
might be, in her opinion, distinctly injurious, though
1 88 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
there are critics who hold that in this she was far from
successful; but she rarely misses an opportunity for di-
rect preaching. Indeed, in some of her inferior writings
the preaching is so overdone that it surfeits even her most
ardent admirers. She is determined to preach, will not
be hindered from preaching; boys and girls must learn
something good, if they are to linger with her. Yet the
fury of the effort implies something artificial about it.
Her preaching is an acquired habit and discipline, not
an inherited, divine impulse, like Mrs. Stowe's. When
you look carefully into Louisa's religion, you appre-
ciate at once what I mean. It was a sturdy, working
religion, solid, substantial, full of good deeds and kind-
ness. Her own hard experience had made her eminently
ready to help others. When she gets money, she gives
it, and she gives sympathy always. " I like to help the
class of ' silent poor ' to which we belonged for so many
years." ^^ But her own hard experience had been too
closely connected with abstract religion and concrete
philosophers for her to cherish much personal affec-
tion for abstract religion and philosophy. In her
thoughtful childhood she did indeed touch God under
the whisper of the great pines: "It seemed as if I
felt God as I never did before, and I prayed in my
heart that I might keep that happy sense of near-
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 189
ness all my life."^^ But she was too honest to pay
herself with words, and to her, as to so many of her
contemporaries, religious hope remained simply a glim-
mering star to distract thought from dark gulfs that had
no hope in them at all. "Life always was a puzzle to
me, and gets more mysterious as I go on. I shall find it
out by and by and see that it's all right, if I can only
keep brave and patient to the end." ^^
Meantime she must earn money. She set out with
that motive in her youth and it abode with her till her
death. Do not take this in any sordid sense. She was as
far as possible from being a miser or a squanderer. She
found no pleasure in the long accumulation of a fortune,
none in the mad spending of it. But the terrible lack of
dollars in her childhood had taught her their value. All
her life she was in need of moderate ease herself and
those she loved needed it far more. Therefore she must
and she would and she did earn money. How she earned
it was of less importance, and she was perfectly ready
to try any of the few forms of earning then accessible
to women. " Tried for teaching, sewing, or any honest
work. Won't go home to sit idle while I have a head and
pair of hands." ®^ She takes- a place as governess and
goes into ecstasy over her small wages : " Every one of
those dollars cried aloud, * What, ho ! Come hither, and
190 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
be happy! '"^^ She even goes out as a simple servant,
v^ith disastrous results, as fully related by herself. Teach-
ing comes into the list, of course. But she was never
successful at it, and when Fields, with all a publisher's
hearty kindness, says to her, "Stick to your teaching;
you can't write," she murmurs, under her breath,
"I won't teach; and I can write, and I '11 prove it."^^
For, of all the forms of drudgery for money, she
found literature the most acceptable and agreeable. " I
can't do much with my hands ; so I will make a battering-
ram of my head and make a way through this rough-
and-tumble world." ^^ She did it; but do not imagine
that the way was easy, that the dollars rolled into her
lap, or that she could escape many hard knocks and stag-
gering buffets. Late in her life a young man asked her
if she would advise him to devote himself to authorship.
" Not if you can do anything else, even dig ditches," ®"
was the bitter answer. For years she found the upward
road a piece of long and tedious traveling. Hours had
to be snatched where possible, or impossible, necessary
tasks had to be slighted, health had to be risked and
wasted, all to write stories which she knew to be worth-
less, but which she hoped would sell. They did sell
after a fashion, brought her five dollars here, ten dollars
there, enough to buy a pair of shoes or stop a gaping
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 191
creditor's mouth for a moment. But what vast labor
was expended for petty results or none, what vaster
hopes were daily thrown down, only to be built up again
with inexhaustible endurance and energy !
Even when success came and the five dollars were
transformed into fifty and five hundred, there was strug-
gle still, perhaps more wearing than at first. Engage-
ments had to be met and publishers satisfied, no matter
how irksome the effort. " I wrote it with left hand in a
sling, one foot up, head aching, and no voice," ^^ she
says of one story. Though money was abundant, it was
never abundant enough: "The family seem so panic-
stricken anS helpless when I break down, that I try to
keep the mill going." ^'^ To be sure, there was glory.
When it began to come, she appreciated it keenly.
" Success has gone to my head, and I wander a little.
Twenty-seven years old, and very happy." ^^ It was
pleasant to be widely praised and admired, pleasant to
have compliments from great men and brilliant women,
pleasantest of all, perhaps, to feel that children loved
your books and cried over them and loved you. Yet she
seems to have felt the annoyances of glory more than
most authors an3 to have savored its sweets less. Per-
haps this was because she was early worn out with over-
work and over-anxiety. "When I had the youth I
192 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
had no money; now I have the money I have no time;
and when I get the time, if I ever do, I shall have no
health to enjoy life."^^ Fame bothered her. She re-
sented the intrusions of reporters, even the kindly curi-
osity of adoring readers. What right had they to pester
a quiet woman earning her living with desperate effort
in her own way? For the earning, after all, was the side
that appealed to her, the earning with all it meant. " The
cream of the joke is, that we made our own money our-
selves, and no one gave us a blessed penny. That (ioes
soothe my rumpled soul so much that the glory is not
worth thinking of."'^*'
Also, to be sure, she had always the feeling that she
was not doing the best she could and that the money came
most freely for the things she was not most proud of.
In her early days she wrote and sold sensational stories
of a rather cheap order. Certain features of these
pleased her. She confesses quite frankly that she had
" a taste for ghastliness " "^^ and that she was " fond of
the night side of nature." '^^ But she longed to do some-
thing else, and she tried to, — in " Moods " and " A Mod-
ern Mephistopheles," — perhaps not very well, at any
rate not very successfully. Few get the glory they want,
but there is probably a peculiar bitterness in getting the
glory you don't want.
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT 193
Then she hit on a line of work which, if not
great or original, was sane and genuine. She put her
own life, her own heart into her books, and they were
read with delight because her heart was like the hearts
of all of us. As a child, she wanted to sell her hair to
support her family. When she was older, she supported
them by selling her flesh and blood, an3! theirs, but al-
ways with a fine and dignified reserve as well as a charm-
ing frankness. Every creative author builds his books
out of his own experience. They would be worthless
otherwise. But few have drawn upon the fund more
extensively and constantly than Miss Alcott. And she
was wise to do it, and when she ceased to do it, she failed.
She could allege the great authority of Goethe for her
practice : " Goethe puts his joys and sorrows into poems ;
I turn my adventures Into bread and butter." '^^ She
could also have alleged the shrewdness and vast human
experience of Voltaire, who said : " Whoever has, as you
have. Imagination and common-sense, can find In him-
self, without other aid, the complete knowledge of human
So she coined her soul to pad her purse and, Incident-
ally, to give solace to many. The worshipers of art for
art's sake may sneer at her, but she remains in excellent
company. Scott, Dumas, TroUope, to name no others, col-
194 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
lected cash, as well as glory, with broad and easy negli-
gence. And the point is that, while doing so, they estab-
lished themselves securely among the benefactors of
mankind. The great thinkers, the great poets, the great
statesmen, the great religious teachers sway us upward
for our good. But they often lead us astray and they
always harass us in the process. I do not know that they
deserve much more of our gratitude than those who
make our souls forget by telling charming stories. Per-
haps " Little Women " does not belong in quite the same
order as " Rob Roy," or " Les Trois Mousquetaires," or
even " Phineas Finn." But it is not an unenviable fate
to have gained an honest independence by giving profit
and delight to millions. Miss Alcott did it — and
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD
Frances Elizabeth Willard
Born in Churchville, New York, September 28, 1839.
Removed to Oberlin, Ohio, 1841.
Removed to Wisconsin, 1846.
At Milwaukee Female College, 1857.
At Northwestern Female College, 1858, 1859.
Taught till 1874.
Entered Temperance Work, 1874.
President National Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1879.
President World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1888.
Died February 17, 1898.
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD
She had the great West behind her; its sky and its
distances, its fresh vigor and its unexampled joy. Her
father carried his New England traditions and his in-
fant children from New York in the early forties, —
first to Ohio, then to Wisconsin, — and Frances and
her brother and sister were fed full on corn, pork, farm-
ing, and religion. She herself cites with entire ap-
proval her mother's analysis of the child's fortunate
heredity : " The Thompson generosity, the Willard deli-
cacy, the Hill purpose and steadfastness, the French
element coming from the Lewis family, make up an
unique human amalgam." ^ Whatever her heredity, she
had a sane and healthy childhood. She lived with the ani-
mals, and raced and romped and rioted; she lived with
the Bible and with high ideals and direct and pointed
English, and she contracted an abhorrence of whiskey
which supplied her for life with a more eager stimulant
than whiskey could possibly have furnished.
As a consequence of her breeding and surroundings,
198 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
she had excellent health. Her mother said that in
childhood Frances was the most delicate of all her chil-
dren and that she had an organism exceptionally sus-
ceptible to physical paln.^ She herself enlarges often
upon the exquisite fineness of her sensibility.^ But fresh
air, exercise, and ample sleep, maintained under even
the greatest pressure of business, gave her a sound and
vigorous body, and no doubt as much as anything else
enabled her to say, near the very end of her career:
"The chief wonder of my life is that I dare to have
so good a time, both physically, mentally, and reli-
giously."* To have so good a time, remember it.
With the well-nourished body and the firm, sturdy^
muscles went an unfailing energy of purpose and of
execution. She was no listless performer of household
duty, no tame dishwasher or bedmaker, doing routine
tasks from day to day, without a thought beyond them.
Her mother says : " I wonder sometimes that I had the
wit to let her do what she preferred instead of obliging
her to take up housework as did all the other girls of
our acquaintance."** Wit or not, it was a course ad-
mirably suited to Frances. She dodged the dishpan,
milked the cows instead, rode the horses, rode the cows,
too, If the whim seized her, held the plough at need,
and in the intervals roved the fields and pastures, and
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 199
let her soul rove even more widely than her feet did.
Routine of all sorts she hated always, and shunned it
when she could. " To be tied to a bell rope," she says,
was "an asphyxiating process from which I vainly
sought escape, changing the spot only to Keep the
Everything in her case, you see, favored the building
up of a strong individuality, an ardent, independent will,
and such was the result. She knew her own way and
sought it with tremendous persistence and astonishing
success. She had a spice of temper, which she well
recognized and fought and got the better of, but with
immense struggle. When she was a schoolgirl, she had
an amiable playmate whose amiability irritated her.
She "just stepped on Effie's toes at recess to see if she
wouldn't frown, and sure enough she didn't."^ All
through life she felt an inclination to step on such
amiable toes. Her willfulness showed in the inclination
and her will in keeping it under.
Souls of this positive, individual temper are not al-
ways successful in their relations with others, do not
always care to mingle with others or to frame their
lives in conjunction with their fellow men and women.
Miss Willard's account of herself shows strong symp-
toms of this self -withdrawing disposition. She speaks
200 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
of her painful shyness in youth, of her difficulties in
meeting people and in adapting herself to them. She
makes an interesting admission, also, which places her
sharply in one of the two great classes into which social
humanity is divided: "I have an unconquerable aver-
sion to intercourse with my superiors in position, age,
or education."^ Such an aversion, like its opposite, is
the key to many lives and furnishes a great help for
understanding Miss Willard's.
On the other hand, she had many striking social quali-
ties. Her rush and furious abundance of spirits, her
immense mental activity, naturally sought utterance
with those who would understand her and appreciate
her ardor. She had varied and sparkling wit, could tell
excellent stories and did, —- stories that were remem-
bered and repeated after her. She shone in conversa-
tion, — real conversation apparently, that is, in which
others did their part as well as she. Her commenf
upon Emerson's well-known saying, "we descend to
meet," is curious. She thinks that Emerson lived too
early to know what true meeting was, and that the in-
tercourse of advanced, emancipated women almost real-
izes the privileges of celestial society. ® Yet in a milder
moment she herself admits that wholly successful con-
versation is possible only with the very limited number
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 201
wKo are akin to us. If she who had talked with thou-
sands an3 thousands could write the following words,
surely there is some excuse for those who find life a
spiritual solitude. "I do not believe that six persons
have ever heard me talk, and not more than three ever
in private converse heard my vox humana, simply be-
cause they were not skilled musicians. . . . For myself
I know so little of [perfect response] that only as a
foretaste of heaven's companionships do I think of such
beatitude at all." '"^
However unsatisfactory Miss Willard may have
found general society, there is no question as to her
deep tenderness for her intimate friends and fellow
workers. In her " Autobiography " she gives a curious
analysis of the passionate affections of her girlhood.
They were marked by all the sensitiveness, all the con-
fidence, all the jealousy of woman's love for man. In
the letters written in later years to one of her co-laborers
I find much the same tone of devoted personal attach-
ment : " I would I could fondly believe myself one tithe
as much a woman after your own heart, as you are
after mine. I don't mean to let you go your gait away
from my ken and kindly regards 'never no more.' " ^^
Above all, from youth to age. Miss Willard felt this
yearning, clinging affection for the members of her own
202 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
family. Her father and brother were very dear to her.
Her sister, Mary, whose brief life she commemorated
in the little volume entitled, "Nineteen Beautiful
Years," was even dearer. When she first parted from
them, the wrench shook her whole being, and she de-
scribes the pain of it in delightfully characteristic lan-
guage: "I have cried like a child, no, like a strong
man, rather, until I quivered ivith trying to suppress
the sobs that would make themselves audible." ^^ WitH
her mother the relation was closest of all. Mrs. Willard
reared her daughter to be a notable woman, made her
worthy to be so, and lived to see her so, with infinite
satisfaction. And Frances's admiration and adoration
for her mother continued and increased through life.
" My nature is so woven into hers that I almost think It
would be death for me to have the bond severed and
one so much myself gone over the river." ^^
And how about men ? It is evident enough that such
a vivid, passionate nature had treasures of affection to
bestow, if circumstances had favored it. She had lovers,
too. At least she says so, and I believe her. In the
bitter, slightly over-bitter, analysis which she makes
of herself, she says that she is "not beautiful, pretty,
or even good-looking."*^ Others thought differently,
and one enthusiast concluded from her appearance in
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 203
age that in youth she " must have possessed a rare and
exquisite beauty." ^^ However this may be, I fancy she
was Hked even more for her words and spirit than for
her looks. She implies that possibly, if the right man
had wooed her, she might have been won. The right
man never did. Meantime, her comments upon love
and her own capacity for love and her rigid resistance
to love are delicious. I wish I could quote the whole
of them. "I have never been in love, I have never
shed a tear or dreamed a dream, or sighed, or had a
sleepless hour for love. ... I was too cautious, loved
my own peace too well, valued myself too highly, re-
membered too frequently that I was made for something
far more worthy than to spend a disconsolate life, wast-
ing my heart, the richest gift I could bestow, upon a
man who did not care for it."^® This when she was
but little over twenty. Many years later she adds : " Of
the real romance of my life, unguessed save by a trio
of close friends, these pages may not tell." ^'^ Oh, but
I wish they might have told! What would she have
said of the love she had, when she writes so ardentl}^
of the love she had not !
But love in her career was a mere phantom, a drift-
ing rose-cloud. She had other things to think of that
were, or seemed to her, more important. And what
204 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
apparatus and equipment had she for thinking of them?
She had a good background of intelligence and thought
behind her, came of New England stock that was ac-
customed to deal with the abstract problems of life, as
well as with the practical. She had a substantial and
fairly varied education. She read very widely, even
in her younger days. When she was eighteen, she
placidly informed her father that, being of age, she was
going to read novels, though he disapproved of them.^^
She did. The list of books on her desk when she was
twenty is portentous : Watts " On the Mind," Kames's
"Elements of Criticism," Niebuhr's "Life and Let-
ters," ^^ etc. She was brought up on Lord Chesterfield's
letters to his son and tried to put his precepts into
practice. She digested the disillusioned maxims of
Chamfort and quotes with approval one of the most
disillusioned of them : " In great matters men show them-
selves as they wish to be seen ; in small matters as they
And she had the natural thinking power, without
which books, even disillusioned, obscure the spirit's
progress rather than help it. She made up her mind
about things independently, made it up quickly, made
it up firmly, though she always recognized the possibil-
ity of change with a changing point of view. "This
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 205
is my opinion now ; will it change ? It niay seem wrong
to others. It is my way of thinking, and I have a right
to it. That right I will maintain." ^^ She analyzed
everything fearlessly, — analyzed her own heart, ana-
lyzed nature and the world, analyzed the men and
women about her. Her analysis may not always have
been perfect or profound. It was at least sincere, and,
on the whole, free from prejudice. She analyzed life,
and especially, with curious force and bareness, she
analyzed death. How simple and direct is the account
in her Journal of her feelings at the bedside of her
dying sister: "I leaned on the railing at the foot of
the bed and looked at my sister — my sister Mary —
and knew that she was dead, knew that she was alive!
Everything was far off; I was benumbed and am but
waking to the tingling agony." ^^ How vivid and poign^
ant are the reflections suggested by the same scene
in regard to herself: "Then, too, I am coming right
straight on to the same doom : I, who sit here this bright
morning, with carefully made toilet, attentive eyes, ears
open to every sound, I, with my thousand thoughts, my
steady-beating heart, shall lie there so still, so cold, and
for so long."^^
If she applied such analysis to everything, and from
her early childhood, how was it with religion, — when
2o6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
did it take hold of her, how fully, how genuinely, how
deeply? Her sensibility was keen enough to be much
stirred by its emotional side. She was sensitive to
everything. Art indeed did not come within her youth-
ful range, and in later life she was too busy for it. But
music she loved and felt, and music as the expression
of religious feeling had an almost overpowering effect
on her. The sense of mystery was present with her,
too, always, even in the midst of common things: "I
have the feeling of one who walks blindfold among
scenes too awful for his nerves to bear, in the midst
of which we eat and drink, wash our faces and com-
plain that the fire won't burn in the grate, or that the
tea-bell doesn't ring in season."^* But in early days
her analytical temper reacted against religion as against
other things. The letter of doubt and questioning which
she wrote to her teacher in the midst of a revival, with
its unconscious reproduction of a wicked jest of Vol-
taire, — "O God, if there be a God, save my soul, i£
I have a soul, " ^^ — is a curious document. Neverthe-
less, she later accepted the orthodox faith in full and
with complete, though always enlightened, abandonment.
Only religion to her was action, — doing something for
somebody, not dreaming or theological speculation.
Her creed was broad enough to take in the whole world,
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 207
but its essence was practice. In other words, her re-
ligion was not a science, but an art, the art she meant
when one of her friends complained, "How can you
think it right to give up your interest in literature and
art ? " and Miss Willard answered, " What greater art
than to try to restore the image of God to faces that
have lost it?"'«
For she was above all, and more than all, a worker for
humanity, and it as such that the study of her character
becomes profoundly interesting. Let us first consider
her work objectively, as it were, that is, in its effect
upon others, and then in its even more interesting effect
upon herself. From a child she wanted to do some-
thing in the world, to make men happier and better and
fitter for this life and for another. She realized in-
tensely the miseries of existence, those unavoidable and
those that might so easily be avoided. She heard the
cries of suffering that all might hear, and her vivid
imagination pictured the cries that were heard of none.
"I wish my mission might be to those who make no
sign, yet suffer most intensely under their cold, impas-
sive faces." ^'' All through her youth she was restless,
eager, longing, yet knew not what to do more than the
2o8 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
daily task that came in her way. Then the temperance
cause called her, with suffrage and the general advance-
ment of women as adjuncts. She had found what she
wanted and she worked for it till death, with every
power that was in her. Thought of personal profit there
was none; we may say it with absolute certainty. She
liked comfort and she spent with freedom, but when
she declares " I '11 never lay up money and I '11 never be
rich," ^^ we know it is true.
And what admirable powers she had for the work!
Energy? Her energy was inexhaustible, and as well
directed as it was tireless. She herself tells us so: "I
have never been discouraged, but ready on the instant
with my decision, and rejoicing in nothing so much as
the taking of initiatives."^^ But we know it without
her telling us. Labor? She can labor like a machine.
"What it would be to have an idle hour I find it hard
to fancy." ^^ She was careful as to sleep and regular
as to exercise, but beyond that every minute was util-
ized. She traveled scores of thousands of miles, spoke
often several times a day, answered every letter, some
twenty thousand a year.^^ She wasted no strength in
worry or regret over lost opportunities. All the thought
she gave to failure was to learn from it. "If it be
ambitious to have no fear of failure in any undertak-
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 209
ing-, to that I must plead guilty. ... I frankly own
that no position I have ever attained gave me a single
perturbed or wakeful thought, nor could any that I
would accept." ^^
Other gifts besides effort are needed, however, to
ensure the triumph of a great cause. Whatever they
may be. Miss Willard had them. There is the gift of
organization, of combining great bodies of men and
women together for a clearly defined purpose and mak-
ing them work in unison till that purpose is achieved.
When she was a child, she devised clubs and framed
elaborate constitutions for them. When she became a
woman, she did the same work, efficiently, rapidly, and
with eminent success.
And there is the gift of speech. So many great ideas
and noble conceptions are lost in realization because the
initiators of them cannot put them into adequate words
and fire the world ; just as a fluent and admirable power
of the tongue is too often given to those who have
nothing behind it. Miss Willard's tongue had assuredly
something behind it; but her power of expression was
always ample, adequate, and either seductive or com-
manding, as she wished. She herself knew well what
this gift of eloquence was, and used it to the full, and
cultivated it. " The spoken word, with a life and char-
210 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
acter back of it, the spoken word, sped home by earn-
est voice, conversational tone, and punctuating gesture,
is the final human factor in the progress of reform." ^*
Yet all testimony shows that her speeches were not ora-
torical, not rhetorical, not stuffed with formal figures
or pompous trumpery. She went right to the heart,
spoke as if her hearers were friends or brothers and
sisters, unveiled her own feelings and experiences as
if she were chatting at the fireside. "That was the
most homey talk I ever heard," ^* said an old farmer,
after listening to her with tears.
This quality of simplicity in her. public utterance was
immensely emphasized by her appearance and manner.
There was nothing imposing or dominating about her;
rather an impression of frankness, gentleness, sympa-
thetic and insinuating grace. One of her admirers, in
endeavoring to describe her, says that her features re-
fuse " to be impressed separately in your memory. Only
her smile and voice abide. She envelops you, perme-
ates you, enfolds you."^^ The general suggestion of
grace, of graciousness, recurs and is reiterated in all
attempts to reproduce her charm.
For she did charm. She charmed multitudes from
the platform, made them, for the time at least, anxious
to carry out her ideas and do her bidding. She charmed
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 211
individuals, took them in quiet corners and whispered
to them some spell of conviction which sent them out
into the world to try to make life over, as she would
have it. She entered into other peoples' souls, put her-
self in their places, saw the world as they saw it. There
was a certain amount of theory about this attitude on
her part. Tact, adaptation, adjustment, were all a mat-
ter of principle with her. For a child to have been
brought up on the " Letters of Lord Chesterfield " ^^ was
no bad preparation for meeting the world, though one
is rather surprised to find it on a Wisconsin farm. She
preaches deference, courtesy, and consideration to
everybody, no matter what their position in life. " Who
says kind words to the man that blacks his boots, to
the maid that makes his bed and sweeps his hearth ? . . .
Oh, we forget these things ! " ^^ But with Miss Willard
there was more to it than theory. She was interested
in the lives of all men and women, curious about* them.
"I am somewhat of a questioner," ^^ she says. She
questioned everybody, and so got a peep into the heart.
But back of the questioning were tenderness and sym-
pathy and kindness, the desire not only to understand
but to help, not only to analyze but to make over. And
precisely in this combination of understanding with love
lay her mighty power over men, the infinite tact which
212 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
enabled her to identify other wills with her own and
so to persuade rather than to command for the achieve-
ment of a great purpose.
Even in her early days of teaching she formulated
clearly the method that later obtained such vast results :
"When you get them all to think alike and act alike
by your command, you can do with them what you
will."^^ But I prefer the testimony of a simple heart,
which elucidates the whole point: "A poor seamstress
said the other day : * I go to sew at Miss Willard's some-
times. I see very little of her, scarcely hear her speak,
but why is it I always leave there saying to myself:
" I must be a better woman, I must indeed." ' " ^^ So the
world said, when Miss Willard had done with it.
This is not the place to attempt more than to sum-
marize briefly what the fullness of Miss Willard's actual
achievement was. It may be that her ardent admirers
somewhat exaggerate it, as is natural. To say that in
her work for American women " she has done more to
enlarge our sympathies, widen our outlook, and develop
our gifts, than any man, or any other woman of her
time,"^^ is making a broad claim, though perhaps not
too broad. It is, at any rate, certain that, as head of
the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, she dimin-
ished almost incalculably the sum of human misery, and
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 213
who would wish to have more said of them than that?
One who knew her work well writes : " There are count-
less men and women all over the world to-day living use-
ful lives, filling positions of trust and responsibility, who
owe to Frances Willard all that they are, because her
word first aroused their dormant powers and gave them
faith in themselves." ^^ It is a just and noble eulogy.
Above all, in this year 1919, when, among a multi-
tude of surprising and far-reaching events, few are
more notable than the establishment of absolute prohi-
bition in the United States of America, the name of
Miss Willard deserves to be widely remembered
and commemorated by her countrymen and country-
Yet I confess that I am even more interested in what
prohibition did for Miss Willard than in what Miss
Willarci did for prohibition. Here, again, let us con-
sider the external influences first, and then follow them
to their spiritual results. To begin with, take the praise,
the eulogy, the idolatry almost, which were necessarily
and naturally poured upon her during the last years
of her life. " She has won a love and loyalty that no
other woman, I think, has ever before possessed," says
214 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
her biographer.*^ It was immense, in any case. Huge
audiences shouted and screamed with enthusiasm over
her mere presence. Princes and potentates welcomed
her; high functionaries bowed down to her; precious
souls rescued from destruction hailed her as their
savior. Children were named after her, so many that her
secretary has to keep the record, — over one hundred,
she says. No exuberance of praise seems excessive,
and one adorer assures us that " Frances Willard lived,
literally, the Christ-life on earth."** That "Hterally"
is, I think, about as far as ecstasy can go. The mind
that could not be affected by such treatment as this
would indeed have something superhuman.
And besides the influence of unlimited applause, there
is what I may call the platform habit, the peculiar and
unavoidable effect of appearing constantly before mul-
titudes of people and exhibiting one's personality, one's
soul to them, more or less unreservedly. Of course
every preacher is exposed to this to some extent and
few preachers wholly escape the consequences of it.
But the ordinary preacher is limited in his audiences
and constrained to forget himself to some extent in his
holy calling. The lecturer, the political orator, and,
most of all, the reformer and the revivalist, are almost
always moulded by this habit of public appearance in
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 215
ways most curious to consider, and few have been ex-
posed to the influence more overwhelmingly than Miss
The platform instinct was born in her. At three or
four years old she was set up on a chair to recite
hymns, and enjoyed it. Of one favorite she says:
"Mother taught me how to speak it, where to put in
the volume of sound and the soft, repressed utterance,
and as for the pathos I knew where to put that in my-
self." ^^ She always knew. And this instinct is not
one that loses anything with the process of time. As
years went on, publicity became existence to her; she
thought in public, as it were, and all her inner life was
lived in the presence of her faithful followers. Do not
take this as in any way contradicting what I have said
above about her charm and about her simplicity. There
is no incompatibility here. It was just because life in
public was so natural and easy to her, because she faced
it without shrinking and without embarrassment, that
she was able to convey herself, all her enthusiasms and
ideals, so directly to others. The stimulus of a crowd
roused her to intenser thought and feeling, just as one
sympathetic auditor rouses others of a different tem-
perament. To her, vast numbers were just one sympa-
thetic auditor. Hear how shrewd and vivid is her own
2i6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
statement of this: "To me an audience is like a well-
bred person, quiet, attentive, sympathetic, and, best of
all, not in a position to answer back." ^^
And, as she felt the stimulus of an audience when it
was before her, so she gradually came to carry one
always in her mind, to feel that she was living before
the vast audience of the world, and to put into every
action the consciousness that it must be a lesson and
an example. An amiable hostess thoughtlessly invites
her to take a glass of wine when much fatigued. " The
blood flushed in cheek and brow as I said to her,
'Madam, two hundred thousand women would lose
somewhat of their faith in humanity if I should drink a
drop of wine.'"*^ Think what it must be to feel the
eyes of two hundred thousand women fixed upon you
from the time you wake till the time you sleep again.
This is the way Miss Willard lived.
Perhaps the most curious illustration of the sense of
exemplariness is her " Autobiography." Here is a book
of seven hundred closely printed pages, written by her-
self about herself, to be given to the world in her own
lifetime, and the publishers inform us frankly that she
originally wrote twelve hundred pages that had to be
cut down. Assuredly no one ever turned themselves
inside out more absolutely for the improvement of a
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 217
hearkening world. And everywhere the necessity of
setting an example is apparent. This becomes evident
at once, when you compare the simple, natural journals
of Miss Willard's youth with the carefully prepared
matter of the later narrative. Of course nothing is
false, nothing is misrepresented. Yet the consciousness
of edification, the overwhelming nearness of the lecture
platform, are everywhere present.
Now let us analyze a little more fully the effect of
this curious life upon the woman's soul. To begin with,
in the immense work she had undertaken of making
over the world by the power of speech, did she experi-
ence alternations of hope and despair, enthusiasm and
discouragement? Most men, and especially most
women, one would think, would have had their hours
of being exalted with the assured confidence of success,
and hours again when blank depression would have
made it seem as if they were beating at a stone wall.
Symptoms of such depression may perhaps be detected
in Miss Willard's "Autobiography," but I have looked
for them curiously and I have found but few indeed.
She had splendid health, she had an even temper, and
she had an unfailing faculty of hope. If she had dark
moments, she concealed them, perhaps out of considera-
tion for the two hundred thousand.
2i8 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
I have also enjoyed probing the personal motives that
lay behind her tremendous and constant effort, for she
herself, in the seven hundred close pages, has invited
such probing too earnestly for any one to resist it. We
have already seen that she aimed to help mankind, — set
out to do a noble work in the world, no doubt mainly
for the sake of doing it. Her one sole aim, says her
enthusiastic biographer, "has been to do the will of
God as far as she knew it."^^ But to talk of the sole
aim of any one is perilous. We are not made so neatly
of one piece. Besides her large philanthropy. Miss
Willard had a lot of healthy human ambition, just
plain common desire to be admired and spoken well of
and generally famous. She admits this herself very
freely. "I have been called ambitious, and so I am,
if to have had from childhood the sense of being born
to a fate is an element of ambition." *^ She was keenly
anxious to help on such fate also. In confessing her
faults, she enumerates: "My chief besetments were,
as I thought, a speculative mind, a hasty temper, a too
ready tongue, and the purpose to be a celebrated per-
son." ^^ She even confesses with admirable frankness
that it hurt her to be excelled by others. "I have
odious little 'inwardnesses' of discomfort when dis-
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 219
Her ambition was as wide as it was intense. Politics ?
Oh, yes, certainly politics. "Next to a wish I had to
be a saint some day," she tells an audience, "I really
would like to be a politician." ^^ Literature ? In youth
she feels an overpowering desire to utter great thoughts
and emotions, which she can never quite put into words.
And all her life the same desire haunted her, so that
the immense realized glory of her public achievement
was never thoroughly satisfying. She would have liked
to write something that the future would have read and
read forever. One curious passage from her "Auto-
biography " is worth quoting at length, as an illustration
of her mind and temper and also of her frankness of
self-revelation: "Just here I will say, though it is not
usual to reveal one's highest literary ambition, espe-
cially when one has failed to attain it, that I am willing
to admit that mine has been during the last thirty years
to write for the ' Atlantic Monthly '!...! have writ-
ten for 'Harper's' and had a letter in the 'Century,'
but I have never yet dared offer one to the 'Atlantic'
Once I went so far as to send its admired editor,
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a printed article that I thought
tolerably good, that is for me, asking him if he believed
I could write anything the ' Atlantic ' would accept. I
received in reply a courteous note with the enigmatical
220 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
statement that he was unable to say from the article
forwarded whether I could or not. The question in my
mind is now and ever shall be, 'Is that a compliment
to the article ? ' . . . But I give the cultured editor no-
tice that though I may never be lifted to the Olympian
heights of his pages, I intend so to live that somebody
who is, shall yet write of me between those magic
yellow covers of the Queen of Monthlies !" ^^ *
Though she wrote vastly, it is hardly to be supposed
that Miss Willard's literary reputation is likely to be
permanent. It was in the very different field of im-
mediate personal public triumph that she won successes
huge enough to satisfy any ambition that could be satis-
fied at all. It is of the nature of these triumphs that
they caress and excite and stimulate the soul more than
any others and the study of their effect upon Miss
Willard is everywhere extremely curious.
In other words, all through the immense length of
her "Autobiography" I think we may perceive, cannot
deny, a growing self-consciousness, which I would call
vanity, if the word were not misleading. Do not sup-
pose that this is inconsistent with power. Cicero was
an enormous power in the world and' was one of the
vainest of men. It would be folly to speak of Miss
* It may be worth noting that with the appearance of this portrait in the
Atlantic Miss Willard's wish was for the first time gratified.
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 221
Willard as vain in comparison with Cicero. Nor is the
vanity inconsistent with an almost childlike simplicity.
On the contrary, it seems to go with it naturally. It
did with Cicero. It did with Miss Willard. Simplicity
and a singular charm are not incompatible with vanity
at alL Nevertheless, by force of endeavoring to live
all one's life as an example one runs a little risk of
coming to regard one's life as exemplary, and this
danger Miss Willard did not altogether escape. This
it is which leads her to expose her soul in page after
page with such extraordinary frankness. She meant
to do good, no doubt she might do good, and did do
good; but one cannot wholly escape the impression of
a naturally modest lady undressing in public.
Of course through all the exposure and the stress
upon precept there is a constant insistence upon humil-
ity. And no one can question for a moment that the
humility is genuine. When Miss Willard wrote in her
youth: "I think myself not good, not gifted in any
way. I cannot see why I should be loved, why I should
hope for myself a beautiful and useful life or a glori-
ous immortality at its close," ®^ she meant it. When
she wrote in age, "I love too well the good words of
the good concerning what I do; I have not the control
of tongue and temper that I ought to have, . . . and
222 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
the sweet south wind of love has not yet thawed out
the ice-cake of selfishness from my breast," ^^ she meant
it also, even if she might have preferred saying it her-
self to having any one else say it. Yet even in the
humility the subtle and pervading influence of the ex-
emplary life does make itself felt. I know few things
more curious than Miss Willard's elaborate study of
her own faults for the benefit of the public. After the
most thorough and searching investigation, it would
appear that she practically finds but two, and of those
two one runs eminent risk of finally turning out to be
a virtue. ^^
I do not mean, however, to overstress this element
of self-consciousness in Miss Willard, which was en-
tirely natural and almost unavoidable in the life she led.
But, no matter what may have been the effects of that
life upon her character, there can be no question but
that she enjoyed it. She herself tells us so. She had
magnificent health, cherished by intelligent care and
enduring through a long course of years. " Painless,
in a world of pain," ^"^ she says of herself, — and what a
qualification that is for hearty enjoyment! She adds
further the notable sentence already quoted : " The chief
wonder of my life is that I dare to have so good a time,
both physically, mentally and religiously."^^ A good
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 223
time she certainly did have. All the excitement of the
ordinary public entertainer was hers, — the actor, the
singer, the performer to huge audiences generally.
Everywhere she could count upon an attentive hearing,
usually upon an enthusiastic one; and if she had to
battle to make it so, the battle, to her temperament, was
almost as delightful as the victory. But to the general
excitement of the stage and the platform was added
the far greater excitement of conscious benevolent mo-
tive. You were stirring all these crowds, winning all
these plaudits, not for yourself, not for your personal
glory, but for a great cause, — for the advancement
of good in the world, to hasten the splendid coming of
the kingdom of God. Perhaps the psychology of the
philanthropist, of the reformer, of the evangelist has
yet to be written with minute and analytical care, and
he will never be the one to write it himself. But Miss
Willard has supplied more curious information on the
subject than any one else.
Take the impressive and delightful incident, described
by her and by others, of the attack on the Pittsburg
saloon by a group of women, all standing in earnest,
awed attention along the curbstone, while " a sorrowful
old lady, whose only son had gone to ruin through that
very deathtrap, knelt on the cold, moist pavement and
224 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
offered a broken-hearted prayer." ^^ No -doubt these
are the things that move the world, but they also afford
an interest beyond any other for those who take part
in them. Miss Willard, with the best intentions, wished
to deny to everybody the excitement of alcohol. But
she herself lived on the fierce excitement of doing good,
beside which all other stimulants are pale and watery.
I HAVE thus emphasized the vast and varied enjoy-
ment of Miss Willard's life, because so many of her
admirers have called it a life of sacrifice. Of course
she made sacrifices. Who does not? When she chose
her philanthropic career, she gave up a prospect of
assured ease and assured usefulness for a wild and
stormy course which might lead nowhere. And at other
times she gave up other things which were hard to
relinquish. But to call her life a life of sacrifice in
comparison with some other lives would be absurd.
How many women go daily about city streets to relieve
suffering, to comfort misery, to cherish fainting hope,
without any thought of reward or any stimulus of glory,
worn, weary, and discouraged, sacrificing everything to
the sense of duty and the pressure of conscience ! How
many women in far country homes live long lives of
FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD 225
utter monotony, drudging over ugly cares, with nothing
but grumbhng and faultfinding about them, their habit
of existence so in-woven with sacrifice that they cannot
even imagine the possibility of anything else! Beside
these how can any one talk of sacrifice in connection
with Frances Elizabeth Willard? If she could have
been convinced that she could bring the cause she served
to immediate triumph by changing places with one of
these women, I think so highly of her that I am sure
she would have done it. But what ingenuity she would
have shown in resisting the conviction !
Let me repeat, then, that she was a woman of noble
character, of splendid and enduring power, one who
left the world a legacy of accomplishment which is
to-day maturing into the widest and most fruitful re-
s-ults; but she was neither a martyr nor a saint, and,
heavens, how she did enjoy herself !
Born in Amherst, Massachusetts, December lo, 1830.
Lived in Amherst.
Died in Amherst, May 15, 1886.
One wHo, as a child, knew Emily Dickinson well and
loved her much recollects her most vividly as a white,
ethereal vision, stepping from her cloistral solitude
onto the veranda, daintily unrolling a great length of
carpet before her with her foot, strolling down to where
the carpet ended among her flowers, then turning back
and shutting herself out of the world.
It is just so that we must think of her as coming into
the larger world of thought. In the grimmest, austerest
background of restrained New England habit and
tradition in the mid-nineteenth century there suddenly
opens a sunlit door and out steps, floats rather, this white
spirit of wonder and grace and fancy and mockery,
shakes folly's bells, swings worship's incense, and is gone
before we have time to understand her coming.
She, if any one, was in the world, but not of it, not
even of the little world which was the only one she lived
in. The atmosphere of a New England college town like
Amherst is in itself secluded and peculiar with a clois-.
230 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
tered charm. Emily's family were secluded in their own
souls, even from those who knew them well. Their
home was secluded in quiet gravity and dignity. Out of
this home, in her years of womanhood, Emily rarely
stepped; out of Amherst more rarely still. So perfect
was her shy isolation that it seems almost profane to
disturb her in it. Yet I have a feeling that she would
have wished us to. The shyest, the most isolated, are
only waiting, even in their lives, for one to come whose
loved approach shall shatter the isolation forever. If
the isolation is never shattered, but grows closer and
thicker, still I believe that it nurses the hope of a sym-
pathetic, understanding eye that shall see into the most
hidden corner of the soul. At any rate, Emily, from her
solitude, speaks out to us in puzzling, teasing, witching
accents, beckons us, dares us, as it were, to follow her,
to seek her, unravel her mystery, lay a searching finger
on her heart. Who can resist such a magical solicita-
tion? She speaks to us in strange, chaotic verses, not
so much verses as clots of fire, shreds of heaven, snatches
of eternity. She speaks to us in letters, chaotic also, but
perhaps more fit and helpful for our purpose of ap-
proaching her than the poems. We will use the letters
to advance with more humdrum steps and now and then
get a flash of sudden illumination from the verses.
EMILY DICKINSON 231
To begin with, let me re-emphasize the shyness and
isolation. She sought it, she loved it. Even in child-
hood she left home with reluctance and returned with
ecstasy. It was not because her inner life was dull and
bounded, but because it was vast and wandering; and
loved, common things were all that anchored her to
herself. "Home," she says, "is the riddle of the wise
— the booty of the dove." ^
She was well aware, of course, of the solitude she
lived in. "Nothing has happened but loneliness," she
writes to a friend, "perhaps too daily to relate."^ But
you err much if you think the solitude was barren or
empty. Light, bright thoughts swarmed in it, quick and
eager fancies, wide desires, wider hopes, and endless
She had books as companions.
" Unto my books so good to turn
Far ends of tired days." ^
To be sure, she was no student, no persistent, systematic
reader, as Mrs. Ripley was. She would pick up and
put down: a chapter or a page was enough for her,
enough to kindle hope or quench ennui, if she ever felt
any. But her immense capacity of being stimulated
could not resist a book. She loved words, says her niece,
Mrs. Bianchi; "the joy of mere words was to Aunt
232 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
Emily like red and yellow balls to the juggler." ^ How
then could she fail to love the royal masters of words?
Her father liked "lonely and rigorous books," she told
Colonel Higginson, but she preferred them more grace-
ful or touched with fire. After her first real one, she
said to herself, " This, then, is a book, and there are more
of them? " ^ When she found Shakespeare, she thought
the world needed nothing else.
She had the piano as a companion; played upon it
gayly; turned common airs into wild, fantastic reveries,
" One improvisation which she called the Devil was, by
tradition, unparalleled."^ We may assume that she
loved the other arts also, as well as music ; at least that
they fed her fancy, though her life did not bring her near
And nature was the friend of her secluded spirit.
"You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sun-
down, and a dog as large as myself, that my father
bought me." ^ Flowers and trees and birds and insects
talked to her, and she to them, in that strange speech
which they perhaps understood better than her human
fellows. What the charm of this converse was she inti-
mates to us in light, delicate touches : " We are having
such lovely weather — the air is as sweet and still — now
and then a gay leaf falling — the crickets sing all day
EMILY DICKINSON 233
long — high in the crimson tree a belated bird is sing-
ing." ^ Or she can go behind this bare portrayal of the
surface and bring out wayward glimpses of hidden feel-
ing, vague and subtle hints of dim emotion such as
flutter in all our spirits and are gone before we can
define them. She can do this in verse :
" There *s a! certain slant of light.
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses like the weight
Of cathedral tunes." »
She can do it even better, to my feeling, in prose : " Noth-
ing is gone, dear, or no one that you knew. The forests
are at home, the mountains intimate at night and arro-
gant at noon. A lonesome fluency abroad, like sus-
pended music." ^°
From suggestions such as these it is evident that even
if outside adjuncts failed her wholly, she had sufficient
society in her own thoughts. She lived in a hurrying
swarm of them, a cloud and tumult of manifold reflec-
tions, which made the gross, material contact of daily
human speech and gesture seem poor and common. She
shut herself off in this silent hurly-burly as in an aristo-
cratic garment of her own, " How do most people live
without any thoughts?" she cried. "There are many
people of the world — you must have noticed them in
234 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
the street — how they live? How do they get strength
to put on their clothes in the morning? "^^ She herself
put on in the morning a garment of scintillating radiance
and only exchanged it at night for a lighter robe of
gleaming stars. "In a life that stopped guessing you
and I should not feel at home/' ^^ she says. She filled
the universe with her guesses and then made comments
on them that were more perplexing than the guesses
were. Not that she was in any way a systematic thinker
any more than reader. Heavens, no ! She could never
have labored with the slow and ordered speculations of
Mrs. Ripley. Sometimes she sets up a stable reign of
goodness in the world, believes that things will be well
with us and asserts it hopefully : " I 'm afraid we are all
unworthy, yet we shall ' enter in.' " ^^ Sometimes she
doubts, rebels even, wonders whether suffering has at
all its due complement of loving, murmurs in wayward
petulence, " It will never look kind to me that God, who
causes all, denies such little wishes." ^* And always, to
her probing guess, the world and life are veiled in mys-
tery, and on the whole she is not ungrateful. " It is true
that the unknown is the largest need of the intellect,
though for it no one thinks to thank God." ^^
It was perhaps, then, dreams that were her playfellows
rather than thoughts, at least thoughts broken, con-
EMILY DICKINSON 235
densed, abbreviated, intensified. No doubt she thought
as she spoke and wrote, in gleams and figures, and her
oddities of speech, though they may have been slightly
emphasized by too much Carlyle and Browning; were,
like her oddities of action, not affectations of manner,
but real oddities, quaintnesses, inspired flashes of soul.
She lived in a world of dreams, — dreams above her,
dreams about her, dreams beneath her. Now and then,
as we all do in our rarer moments of half-conscious
somnolence, she rubs her eyes and asks herself of her
conciition: "Sometimes I wonder if I ever dreamed —
then if I 'm dreaming now, then if I always dreamed." ^^
But the eyes close again, and the dreams press more
thickly, sweet phantoms that crowd and shudder into
one another in the strange, disordered way dreams have.
" The lawn is full of south and the odors tangle, and I
hear to-day for the first [time] the river in the tree." ^''
She tries to clutch them, to stay their dim and fluttering
passage : " I would eat evanescence slowly " ; ^^ but they
quiver and fade an3 vanish,only to give place to others
as fantastic and enchanting as themselves.
Yet back of the dream playfellows there is one sub-
stance that endures and never fails her, — God, set solid
in the white, unchanging background of eternity. And
I do not say that she had any dry, mental conviction
2i6 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
about these things. When mortal pangs come, they
rend and tear her hope as they do others ' :
" My life dosed twice before its close ;
It yet remains to see
If immortality unveil
A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
t As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell." "
And I do not say that God was anything tangible to her,
like her father in the next room. If He had been, she
would not have found Him God, or loved Him when she
had her father. In her quaint, wild way she even indi-
cates that she loved God because He shunned society as
she did. " They say that God is everywhere, and yet we
always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse." ^° But
God filled her solitude, God gave life and body to her
dreams, God made evanescence stay with her, or turned
evanescence into an all-sustaining, all-enfolding, all-
satisfying duration, which made the vague, unquiet
futility of common life not only bearable but lovely, even
to her restless and inquiring spirit.
Still, for all God and dreams, I would not wliolly cut
off her image from humanities. " I often wonder how
the love of Christ is done when that below holds so." ^^
That below held her. Let us see how.
EMILY DICKINSON 237
In early life she would seem not to have avoided even
general society. There are records of social gatherings,
dances, varied merrymakings, in which she took a ready,
gay, and active part, without any marked indication of
undue withdrawal within herself. In her schooldays she
was attractive and, if not exactly popular, could always
use her wit and fun to draw listeners and lovers. As a
young woman in Amherst, she did not wholly refuse
herself to the conventional demancls of social inter-
course, though it is evident that she yielded with protest
and escaped with a sigh of relief : " We go out very little ;
once in a month or two we both set sail in silks, touch at
the principal points and then put into port again. Vinnie
cruises about some to transact commerce, but coming to
anchor is most I can do." ^^ The general kindness of the
world, its chilly and Indifferent courtesy, its ready and
empty acceptance and circulation of cordial nothings
grated on her direct and poignant spirit. She would not
endure the haggard necessities of parlor conversation.
She was suspicious even of real sympathy from an un-
authorized source: "Thank you for tenderness. I find
that is the only food the Will takes now, — and that, not
from general fingers." ^^
238 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
But, on the other hand, she had her need of human
affection, hke every one of us, hungered for it, starved
for it at times. She wanted those she loved when she
wanted them, wanted them as she wanted them, expected
their devotion to her bidding, though she was so coy
about doing theirs. When she said come, they were to
come, and go, to go. If they did not, it vexed her : " I
think I hemmed them faster for knowing you weren't
coming, my fingers had nothing else to do Odd, that I,
who say 'no' so much, cannot bear it from others."^*
She well knew the bounds and limits of friendship; but
perhaps she prized it all the more on that account. Her
love was as abiding as it was elusive. Grasp it and it
flitted away from you. Then it flitted back, like a deli-
cate butterfly, and teased and tantalized your heart with
quaint touches of tenderness, till you knew not whether
to laugh or weep. " I hold you few I love, till my heart
is red as February and purple as March," ^^ she murmurs
in her strange idiom; and again she flings love wide
beyond even the permanence of her own soul, " To live
lasts always, but to love is finer than to live." ^®
These things rather for outside friendship. As for
her family, she clung to them with the close persistence
of a warm burr, which pricks and sticks. She knew all
their foibles, of which that stern New England house-
EMILY DICKINSON 239
hold had enough. She sets them out with the calmest
realization, as a keen-sighted heart will, must : " Mother
and Margaret are so kind, father as gentle as he knows
how, and Vinnie good to me, but * cannot see why I don't
get weir";^^ or in a more general, inimitable picture:
" I have a brother and sister ; my mother does not care
for thought, and father, too busy with his briefs to notice
what we do. He buys me many books, but begs me not
to rea3. them, because he fears they joggle the mind.
They are religious, except me, and address an eclipse,
every morning, whom they call their ' Father.' " ^^ Yet
she loved them all, with a deep, devoted tenderness. Her
mother comes to us mainly as a shadow figure, to be
petted and spared and cared for. Her sister was a swift,
practical personage, not too ready to enjoy Emily's
vagaries, but trained to accept them. She swept and
dusted and cooked, and tried sometimes to get a useful
hand from her dreaming sister, — a useful hand, perhaps,
when she got it; but I fancy she often wished she had
not. Of the two brothers, Austen was Emily's favorite,
or at least she looked up to him as she did to her father,
a stern, august, impressive face and spirit. Intimate
communion with such a one must have been difficult for
anybody. Certainly Emily would not have looked for it
nor expected it. But to touch that granite soul and feel
240 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
that it belonged to you, made life seem more solid and
death less terrible.
And the same was far truer of her father. Cer-
tainly he never put his cheek or his heart against hers,
never fondled her or caressed her. She would not
have wished such things, would have resented them.
"Father's real life and mine sometimes come into col-
lision," she says, "but as yet escape unhurt." ^^ But she
looked up to him, how she looked up to himr! Or rather,
she was always looking up, and in doing so she found
her father's face a marked signpost on the way to God.
Yet she could not touch those she loved best, friends,
or near, dear kinsfolk. None of us can, you say. To be
sure ; but she knew it and most of us do not. She moved
among her family and through their house like the
ghostly shadow of a rare desire. The little needs and
calls of domestic duty she detested, though she some-
times took her part in them. Hear her wayward fancy
describe that soul's pest, a household removal: "I can-
not tell you how we moved. I had rather not remember.
I believe-my * effects ' were brought in a bandbox, and the
'deathless me,' on foot, not many moments after. I
took at the time a memorandum of my several senses,
and also of my hat and coat, and my best shoes — but
it was lost in the melee, and I aim out with lanterns.
EMILY DICKINSON 241
looking for myself." ^^ The patient solicitude of nursing
tenderness she gave no doubt most deftly and de-
votedly, yet one feels its burden: "Mother's dear little
wants so engross the time ... I hardly have said
'Good-morning, mother,' when I hear myself saying,
' Mother, good-night.' " ^^
But her isolation from these crying, crowding human
realities about her went deeper than the mere irksome-
ness of daily duty. The trouble was that they were not
realities but shadows, as she herself was, even more.
What was sure and reliable and eternal and beyond the
touch of trouble, was solitude and loneliness, where she
could forever regale herself with the infinite companion-
ship of thought. These dear human perplexities flitted
in unaccountably. Before you could adjust yourself to
them, they were gone, and you were never quite certain
whether they left love behind them or torment. " Perhaps
death gave me awe for friends, striking sharp and early,
for I held them since in a brittle love, of more alarm
than peace." ^^
Then one wonders how it was with the greatest love
of all, the love of sex for sex. Did it help her or hurt
her or ever come near her ? That she was fitted to draw
the love of men is clear enough. She was strangely,
puzzlingly beauti'f ul. It was not an every-day, peach and
242 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
cream, ballroom beauty. She teased and startled witH
her face as with her soul. Her piercing, disconcerting
eyes; her rich, gleaming, gold-auburn hair; her white,
fragile, ever-stirring, questioning hands; her move-
ments, light and wafted as the movements of a dream,
— all these must have tormented men's hearts as the
wild suggestion of her words did. We know that she
had lovers in the early days, when the world touched
her; and the memory of her fairy charm must have
haunted many who never thought of spoken love. But
how was she herself affected? Did she return the love
that came to her, or long to return it, or have a girl's
visions of what it might be if it came in all its glory
and were returned? The record of these things is dim
and vague. In her early youth she looks forward, mock-
ingly, to lovers, and expects to be the belle of Amherst
when she reaches her seventeenth year. "Then how I
shall delight to make them await my bidding, and with
what delight shall I witness their suspense while I make
my final decision." ^^ Later love calls her to a rapturous
hour, though duty forbids and she overcomes the tempta-
tion, — " not a glorious victory, where yoti hear the roll-
ing drum, but a kind of helpless victory, where triumph
would come of itself, faintest music, weary soldiers, nor
a waving flag, nor a long, loud shout." ^* And through
EMILY DICKINSON 243
the letters and through the poems there breathes often
the faint, poignant perfume of love, flickers the way-
ward, purple flame of love, — love questioning, love ex-
ultant, love despairing, at once immortal and impossible.
But who could realize Emily at the head of a house-
hold, a calm, buxom matron, providing her husband's
dinner and ordering the domestic duties ? As well yoke
a wood-nymph to the plough. And children — doubt-
less she loved children, the children of others, played
with them, laughed with them, wept with them. Per-
haps children of her own would have been hardly envia-
ble. She was made to dream of all these things, to step
for a moment into the tumult of others' tears and
laughter, always with the protecting carpet daintily un-
rolled before her feet, then to vanish quietly, visionlike,
back into the blue void, her own inner region, where
there was still that colossal, constant companion, God,
and the echoing silence of eternity.
And if love did not often tempt her out of this soli-
tude, did conscience sometimes urge her out? Did she
feel that the world needed her, that there were deeds to
be done and fights to be won ? Did she suffer from that
restless, haunting desire of action which so many of us
misread and call by fine names, but which more or less
overrides almost all of us with its impetuous tyranny?
244 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
She perhaps as little as any. But I seem to catch at least
some understanding of it in the exquisite, tender solici-
tation to a doubting heart : " All we are strangers, dear,
the world is not acquainted with us, because we are not
acquainted with her; and pilgrims. Do you hesitate?
And soldiers, oft — some of us victors, but those I do
not see to-night, owing to the smoke. We are hungry,
and thirsty, sometimes, we are barefoot and cold —
will you still come ? " ^^ But the smoke and the soldiers
and the fighting were mostly drowned in quiet — for
Do not, however, for a moment suppose that because
her feet were quiet her mind was, that because she re-
fused to live in the casual world herself she was not
interested in the casual life of others. On the contrary,
do we not know that these solitary, passionate recluses
live all life over in their windowed cells, that it is the
wild abundance of other lives in their rioting imagina-
tions that makes all possible adventures of their own
seem tame and frigid ? Do we not know old Burton, who
sucked strange melancholy from the confused chaos
that rumbled about him, whose dear delight was to turn
from his thumbed folios to the loud, profane quarreling
of bargemen by the riverside? Do we not know Flau-
EMILY DICKINSON 245
bert, who shut himself up in his ivory tower, only to lean
from his window in the moonlight and hear the dim
revelry and causeless laughter of the children of men?
So Emily. The action she dreamed of was too vast for
the poor, trammeled limits of this world. But she found
an absorbed pleasure in watching this world's stumbling,
struggling labors, all the same. It was not so much con-
crete facts, not the contemporary history which seems
all-important to those who are making it and mainly
dies when they do. Politics? Emily cannot fix her
thoughts on politics. "Won't you please tell me when
you answer my letter who the candidate for President
is ? . . . I don't know anything more about affairs in the
world than if I were in a trance." ^^ But human passion,
human love, human hope, and human despair, these ab-
sorb her, these distract her, with an inexhaustible inter-
est. She feels them in the touch of human hands and
reads them in human faces :
" I like a look of agony,
Because I know it 's true ;
Men do not sham convulsion.
Nor simulate a throe." ^^
The thrill of life, its glitter, its color, her eyes and her
thoughts were awake for them always : " Friday I tasted
life. It was a vast morsel. A circus passed the house
246 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
— still I feel the red in my mind though the drums are
This vivid sense of the intensity, the ardor, the emo-
tional possibility of things, filled her with passion so
overwhelming that it could not be expressed directly.
Words were inadequate, and she was obliged to take
refuge in jest, mockery, fantastic whim, which merely
deepen the message of underlying feeling for those who
understand. She was own sister to Charles Lamb in
this, — Lamb in whom tears were so close to laughter
and the most apparently wanton jesting the cover for a
tortured heart. It seems at moments as if Emily mocked
everything. She sits idly on the stile in the sunshine
and lets the great circus of the world pass by her,
riddling its vain parade with shafts of dainty laughter.
She is simple, she says, childish, she says, plays all day
with trifles, regardless of the mad doings of real men and
women. " As simple as you please, the simplest sort of
simple — I '11 be a little ninny, a little pussy catty, a little
Red Riding Hood ; I '11 wear a bee in my bonnet, and a
rosebud in my hair, and what remains to do you shall be
told hereafter." 3«
She carried the screen of whim not only into verbal
mockery, but into strange fancies of capricious action,
tricks of Puck and Ariel, which amazed and delighted
EMILY DICKINSON 247
children and simple hearts, but annoyed and' discon-
certed the grave, staid, older children who had never
grown up to real childishness. She would drop kittens
to drown in g, pickle jar and shudder with scared glee
when they were served up on the hospitable table to a
visiting judge. ^^ She would say to another grave judge,
as Falstaff might have, when the plum-pudding was
lighted : " Oh, sir, may one eat of hell fire with impunity
here? " *^ And in all these fantastic tricks there was no
affectation, though some thought so who did not under-
stand, no affectation in the sense of a conscious effort to
impress or astonish. There was no vagary of the wit-
less. It was simply the direct impression of a great',
strange world in a heart which could not grasp it and
strove to, and gave right back the bewitching oddities it
And if this surface of confusing eccentricity
might be thought to imply a callous or even cruel
indifference to what others took with enormous and
bewildered seriousness, it must be repeated and insisted
that, as with Lamb, the eccentricity was a mere mask
for the most complete and sensitive sympathy, extending
often to pity and tears. She was a sister of Lamb. She
w^as also a sister of those most delicate creatures of the
whole world's imagination, the clowns of Shakespeare;
248 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
and if Touchstone and Feste could not surpass her in
exquisite fooHng, she was equally akin to the tragic
tenderness of the clown in "Lear." It needed all the
gayety and all the trifling and all the mad songs to keep
down the waves of sorrow that would surge upward in
her spirit, and at times not all would do. " If we can get
our hearts 'under/ I don't have much to fear — I've
got all but three feelings down, if I can only keep
So, in the effort to explain or forget she mocked at
all the grave and busy problems of the world. Love?
A divine, unrealizable dream, so tantalizing in its witch-
ery that one could not but make a tender jest of it.
Money ? Possessions ? Oh, the solid, evanescent things !
The foundations of our souls rest on them and they
slip away and leave us weltering. We must make a
jest of them too. "You know I should expire of mor-
tification to have our rye-field mortgaged, to say noth-
ing of its falling into the merciless hands of a loco ! " ^^
And the busy people of the world, the grave, substan-
tial, active, useful people. She is not useful, and she
knows it and deplores it. Yet, deploring her own in-
activity, she cannot go without her jest at the others:
"L goes to Sunderland, Wednesday, for a minute
or two; leaves here at half-past six — what a fitting
EMILY DICKINSON 249
hour — and will breakfast the night before; such a
smart atmosphere! The trees stand right up straight
when they hear her boots, and will bear crockery wares
instead of fruit, I fear." *^ And again she sums up this
mighty buzz and hum of the achieving world — or the
world that dreams it is achieving — with the image
of a circus, probably the most vivid form of vain
activity that came under her touch: "There is circus
here, and farmers' Commencement, and boys and girls
from Tripoli, and governors and swords parade the
summer streets. They lean upon the fence that
guards the quiet church ground, and jar the grass row,
warm and soft as a tropic nest."*^ Or a briefer
word gives the same vast — to staid souls how hor-
rifying! — lesson to a child: "I am glad it is your
birthday. It is this little bouquet's birthday too. Its
Father is a very old man by the name of Nature, whom
you never saw. Be sure to live in vain, dear. I wish
And if she could mock the most serious things of this
world, do not suppose that she had the slightest hesita-
tion about mocking another. Eternity was so near her
always that she treated it as familiarly as her brothers
and sisters, and to step out of the wide-open door of
death seemed far less of an adventure than to step out
250 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
of the grim, closed front door into the streets of Am-
herst. Ill-health, whether as the prelude to death or
as the torment of life, she could touch lightly. In
strangers she could trifle with it: "Mrs. S. is very
feeble; 'can't bear allopathic treatment, can't have
homoeopathic, don't want hydropathic,' oh, what a pickle
she is in! " *^ In her own family she takes it as easily:
" We are sick hardly ever at home, and don't know what
to do when it comes, — wrinkle our little brows, and
stamp with our little feet, and our tiny souls get angry,
and command it to go away." *^ When the blow struck
herself, she may have writhed, but we have nothing to
show it. There is the same mockery to wave it aside:
"My head aches a little, and my heart a little more,
so taking me collectively, I seem quite miserable; but
I'll give you the sunny corners, and you mustn't look
at the shade." ^®
Religion, formal religion, Sunday religion, the reli-
gion of staid worship and rock-bound creeds, she takes
as airily, with as astonishing whiffs of indifference, not
to say irreverence. If a phrase of scripture, even the
most sacred, fits a jest, she takes it. If a solemn piece
of starched emptiness in the pulpit ruffles her nice and
tender spirit, she does not hesitate to turn him into
delicate and cutting ridicule. Faith, she says, oh, yes,
EMILY DICKINSON 251
faith, how august, how venerable! "We dignify our
faith when we can cross the ocean with it, though most
prefer ships." ^*^ A revival comes to town. I have no
doubt its deeper side stirred her whole soul. But this
she cannot put into adequate speech, and instead:
"There is that which is called an 'awakening' in the
church, and I know of no choicer ecstasy than to see
Mrs. roll out in crape every morning, I suppose
to intimidate antichrist; at least it would have that
effect on me."^^
Even her most intimate friend, her comforter and
consoler, her everlasting solace, God, is treated with
such light ease as an intimate friend would be. We
have seen that every morning her family prayed to an
eclipse whom they called their Father. Elsewhere the
tone is just the same: "If prayers had any answers
to them, you were all here to-night, but I seek and I
don't find, and knock and it is not opened. Wonder if
God is just — presume He is, however, and 'twas only
a blunder of Matthew's." ^^ Or, take much the same
thing, in apparently more solemn form, but really as
daring as Omar Khayyam :
" ' Heavenly Father/ take to thee
The supreme iniquity,
Fashioned by thy candid hand
In a moment contraband.
252 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
Though to trust us seem to us
More respectful — ' we are dust.'
We apologize to thee
For thine own duplicity." ^^
I quote verse here to show that every phase of
Emily's thought and character could be illustrated from
her poems as well as from her letters. Criticism of
the poems as such is not within the limits of my pur^
pose. Yet even the most abstract literary criticism of
a writer's works usually serves to give some clue to
the writer's mind. And doubtless the puzzling inco-
herency and complexity of Emily's versicles, the wild
vagary of her rhythm and rhyme, express the inner
workings of her spirit, as Milton's majestic diction and
movement imply the ample grandeur of his soul. Com-
mon words come from common lips and rare from
rare, and if the rareness verges on oddity in utterance
there is oddity in the spirit too. At any rate, it is in-
disputable that every trait I have been working out in
Emily's letters could be found in the poems, also, only
more obscure, more veiled, more dubious, more mys-
tical. The love of friends is there and the search for
them and the hopeless impossibility of touching them.
The longing for love is there, all its mystery, its ravish-
ing revelations and its burden. The intense joy of life
is there; its vivid color, its movement, its sparkle, its
EMILY DICKINSON 253
merriment, its absurdity. There, too, is the turning
away from it with vast relief, quiet, solitude, peace,
eternity, and God.
It will be asked whether, in writing her vast number
of little verses, Emily had any definite idea of literary
ambition, of success and glory. Certainly she made no
direct effort for anything of the kind. Only three or
four poems were printed during her lifetime, and those
with extreme reluctance on her part. Her verses were
scattered through brief letters, tossed off with apparent
indifference and evident disregard of finish. In the
main, they must have been rather a form of intense,
instinctive expression than a conscious attempt to catch
the thoughts and admiration of men. She herself says :
"When a sudden light on orchards, or a new fashion
in the wind troubled my attention, I felt a palsy here,
the verses just relieve." ^^ It is true that there are
occasional suggestions of literary interest. This is
sometimes implied in her intercourse with Colonel
Higginson, though I cannot but feel that her corre-
spondence with the good colonel contains more attitude
than her other letters, and she certainly played with
him a little. Further, the verses which introduce the
first volume of poems are definitely in the nature of
an author's apology:
254 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
" This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me."
Nevertheless, we are safe in saying that few authors
have left permanent work with so little conscious pre-
occupation of authorship.
And so we are brought back to her one great preoccu-
pation with the inner life and God and eternity; for
eternity rings through every thought of her, like a deep
and solemn bell, monotonous, if its surface echoes were
not broken into such wild and varied music. Change?
She appreciates change, no one more keenly, its glory
and its horror. " No part of mind is permanent. This
startles the happy, but it assists the sad." ^^ Rest? She
appreciates rest, if in this world there were such a
thing. Love ''makes but one mistake, it tells us it is
'rest' — perhaps its toil is rest, but what we have not
known we shall know again, that divine 'again' for
which we are all breathless."^® But change and toil
and love and agony, all she forgets in that divine per-
manence, from which her soul cannot escape and does
not desire to.
" As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race.
Wrecked, solitary, here."°^
EMILY DICKINSON 255
Or, again, in prose, even more simple and overwhelm-
ing: "I cannot tell how Eternity seems. It sweeps
around me like a sea." ^^
Let no one say that this inner absorption, this dwell-
ing with God and with that which abideth, is selfish.
Many will say so. And what lives do they lead them-
selves ? Lives of empty bustle, of greedy haste, of futile
activity and eagerness. Lives, no doubt, also of wide
usefulness and deep human sacrifice; but these are not
the most ready to accuse others. And too often broad
social contact and a constant movement out of doors
are but symptoms of emptiness, of hatred of solitude,
of an underlying fear of one's self and of being left
alone with God.
Who shall say that such a quiet, self-contained, self-
filling life as Emily Dickinson's, with its contagion
of eternity spreading ineffably from soul to soul, is
not in the end as useful for example and accomplish-
ment as the buzz existence of Mrs. Stowe or Frances
It is true that some who watched her thought her
selfish in minor matters. She was exacting with her
family, made hard demands and expected to have them
satisfied. But this was a detail. In her larger life she
forgot self altogether, or rather, she made self as wide
256 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
as heaven, till all loves and all hates and all men and
all God were included in it. And note that she did not
fly the world for her own purposes. She had no aim
of long ambition to work out in solitude. She did not
trouble with self-culture, did not buttress thought upon
the vast security of books and learning, as did Mrs.
Ripley. She just sat quiet, with the doors of her spirit
open, and let God come to her. And even that celes-
tial coming did not make her restless. She had not
Mary Lyon's longing to bring God to others. She did
not share Frances Willard's passionate cry, "tell every
one to be good." If God had desired men to be good.
He would have made them so. If God's world needed
mending, let Him mend it. She knew well enough He
could, if He wished. Why should she vex her soul
with trifles? For to her was not the real unreal and
the unreal real ?
So I see her last as I saw her first, standing, all
white, at her balcony window, ready to float downward
upon her unrolled carpet into the wide garden of the
world, holding eternity clutched tight in one hand and
from the other dropping with idle grace those flower
joys of life which the grosser herd of us run after so
madly. And I hear her brothers, the clowns of Shake-
EMILY DICKINSON 257
When that I was and a little, tiny boy,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
A little thing was all my joy.
For the rain it raineth every day.
When that I had and a little, tiny wit,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
I made content with my fortunes fit.
For the rain it raineth every day." ^^
TITLES OF BOOKS MOST FREQUENTLY CITED
SHOWING ABBREVIATIONS USED
Adams, Abigail — Letters, 2 vols.
Adams, Abigail — Familiar Letters.
Bianchi, Martha Dickinson — Selections from
the unpublished letters of Emily Dickin-
son to her brother's family, in the Atlan-
tic Monthly, vol. cxv, p. 35.
Cheney, Ednah Dow — Reminiscences.
Cheney, Ednah Dow — Louisa May Alcott,
Her Life, Letters, and Journals, edited by
Ednah D. Cheney.
Dickinson, Emily — Letters of Emily Dick-
inson, edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, in
Dickinson, Emily — Poems, First, Second
and Third Series.
Dickinson, Emily — The Single Hound.
Fields, Annie — Life and Letters of Harriet
Fisk, Fidelia — Recollections of Mary Lyon,
with Selections from her Instructions to
the Pupils in Mount Holyoke Female
Fuller, Sarah Margaret — Love Letters.
Fuller, Sarah Margaret — Memoirs, 2 vols,
Gilchrist, Beth Bradford — Life of Mary
Gordon, Anna A. — The Beautiful Life of
Frances E. Willard.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth — Margaret
Hitchcock, Edward — The Power of Chris-
tian Benevolence illustrated in the Life
and Labors of Mary Lyon.
Manuscript in Boston Public Library.
Reminiscences of Mary Lyon by her Pupils
— Manuscript in Mount Holyoke Library.
Mrs. Cheney — Rem.
Poems, I, II, III.
The Single Hound.
MS., B. P. L.
262 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
Stowe, Charles E. — The Life of Harriet
Beecher Stowe. Stowe.
Stowe, Charles E. and Lyman ^. — Harriet
Beecher Stowe. Stowe and Stowe.
Willard, Frances E. — Gimpses of Fifty
CHAPTER I: ABIGAIL ADAMS
1. Letters, vol. ii, p. 29. 31.
2. Familiar Letters, p. 182.
3. Familiar Letters, p. 126. 32.
4. Letters, vol. i, p. 187. 33.
5. Letters, vol. 11, p. 269. 34.
6. Letters, vol. 11, p. 265. 35.
7. Letters, vol. i, p. 185. 36.
8. Familiar Letters, p. 26. 37.
9. Letters, vol. 11, p. 219. 38.
10. Familiar Letters, p. 159. 39.
11. Familiar Letters, p. 355. 40.
12. John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, 41.
vol. IV, p. 155. 42.
13. John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, 43-
vol. IV, p. 157. 44.
14. John Quincy Adams, Memoirs, 45-
vol. XI, p. 400.
15. Abigail Adams (Smith), /oMrno/ 46.
and Correspondence, p. 215. 47>
16. Letters, vol. 11, p. 56. 48.
17. Letters, vol. 11, p. 186. 49-
18. Familiar Letters, p. 64. SO-
19. Familiar Letters, p. 351. 51.
20. Familiar Letters, p. 253.
21. Familiar Letters, p. 368. 52.
22. Familiar Letters, p. 125. 53.
23. Familiar Letters, p. 179.
24. Familiar Letters, preface, p. 54.
25. Familiar Letters, p. 244.
26. Warren-Adams Letters, vol. i, s6.
p. 19. 57.
27. Familiar Letters, p. 122.
28. Familiar Letters, p. 150. 58.
29. Letters, vol, 11, p. 229. 59.
30. Letters, vol. 11, p. 271. 60.
Abigail Adams (Smith), Journal
and Correspondence, p. 216.
Letters, vol. 11, p. 16.
Letters, vol. 11, p. 5.
Familiar Letters, p. 310.
Familiar Letters, p. 10.
Familiar Letters, p. 130.
Familiar Letters, p. 361.
Letters, voL 11, p. 264.
Familiar Letters, p. 53.
Familiar Letters, p. 69.
Familiar Letters, p. 52.
Familiar Letters, p. 384.
Familiar Letters, p. 309,
Familiar Letters, p. 138.
Abigail Adams (Smith), /oMrwa/
owd Correspondence, p. 223.
Familiar Letters, p. 42.
Familiar Letters, p. 91.
Familiar Letters, p. 229.
Familiar Letters, p. 47.
Familiar Letters, p. 214.
John Adams, Works, vol. x,
Familiar Letters, p. 397.
John Adams, Works, vol. ni,
Familiar Letters, p. 121.
Abigail Adams (Smith), /ownza/
ond Correspondence, p. 246.
Letters, vol. 11, p. 235.
Abigail Adams (Smith), /ohhui/
and Correspondence, p. 237.
Works (Ford), vol. v, p. 14.
Letters, vol. 11, p. 253.
Familiar Letters, p. 115.
264 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
61. Familiar Letters, p. 367.
62. Familiar Letters, p. 358.
63. Familiar Letters, p. 343.
64. Familiar Letters, p. 201.
65. Familiar Letters, p. 79.
66. Familiar Letters, p. 411.
CHAPTER II: SARAH ALDEN RIPLEY
With trifling exceptions, the quotations used in the portrait of Mrs. Ripley
are taken either from manuscript sources or from the comparatively brief
sketch of her by Miss Elizabeth Hoar, printed in Worthy Women of Our
First Century, Philadelphia, 1888.
CHAPTER III: MARY LYON
Miss Gilchrist, p. 32.
Miss. Gilchrist, p. 391.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 29.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 150.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 59.
Miss Fisk, p. 153.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 313.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 316.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 54.
Hitchcock, p. 75.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 123.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 133.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 82.
Reminiscences, p. 80.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 120.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 150.
Hitchcock, p. 172.
MS., letter, Mt. Holyoke Col-
Miss Gilchrist, p. 203.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 217.
Reminiscences, p. 157.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 227.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 375.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 232.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 134.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 247.
Miss Fisk, p. 327.
Hitchcock, p. 246.
Reminiscences, p. 166,
Miss Gilchrist, p. 232.
Reminiscences, p. 42.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 240.
Miss Fisk, p. 328.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 234.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 235.
Hitchcock, p. 284.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 232.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 86.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 241.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 127.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 342.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 389.
Hitchcock, p. 87.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 115.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 248.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 116.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 314.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 82.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 316.
Miss Fisk, p. 331.
Reminiscences, p. 42.
Miss Gilchrist, p. 90.
Hitchcock, p. 144,
Miss Gilchrist, p. 292.
56. Hitchcock, p. IT.
57. Reminiscences, p. 168.
58. Miss Gilchrist, p. 198.
59. Hitchcock, p. 103.
60. Hitchcock, p. 81.
61. Hitchcock, p, 44.
62. Hitchcock, p. 80.
61. Hitchcock, p. 389.
64. Hitchcock, p. 331.
65. Reminiscences, p. 40.
66. Miss Fisk, p. 236.
67. Miss Fisk, p. 319.
68. Hitchcock, p. 154.
69. Hitchcock, p. 155.
70. Miss Fisk, p. 325.
71. Miss Gilchrist, p. 320.
72. Hitchcock, p. 120.
73. Hitchcock, p. 83.
74. Miss Gilchrist, p. 129.
CHAPTER IV: HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
References for pages of Mrs. Stowe's own works are to Riverside edition,
unless otherwise specified.
Mrs. Fields, p. 290.
Stowe, p. 400.
E. S. Phelps, in McClure's
Magazine, vol. vii, p. 7.
Mrs. Fields, p. 90.
Mrs. Fields, p. 311.
Mrs. Fields, p. 146.
Mrs. Fields, p. 327.
Mrs. Fields, p. 26.
Mrs. Fields, p. 49.
Stowe and Stowe, p. 59.
Mrs. Fields, p. 30.
Stowe and Stowe, p. 166.
Stowe and Stowe, p. 179.
Mrs. Fields, p. 250.
Mrs. Fields, p. 185.
Stowe and Stowe, p. 256.
Sunny Memories, vol. 11, p. 47,
Mrs. Fields, p. 40.
Stowe and Stowe, p. 7.
Mrs. Fields, p. 341.
Sunny Memories, vol. 11, p. 392,
Sunny Memories, vol. i, p. 281,
Mrs. Fields, p. 92.
Mrs. Fields, p. 69.
Stowe and Stowe, p. 77.
Mrs. Fields, p. 113.
Mrs. Fields, p. 124.
Mrs. Fields, p. 115.
Mrs. Fields, p. 248.
Mrs. Fields, p. 114.
Mrs. Fields, p. 70.
Mrs. Fields, p. 74.
Mrs. Fields, p. 364.
Mrs. Fields, p. 72.
Minister's Wooing, p. 284.
Mrs. Fields, p. 97.
Stowe, p. 40.
Mrs. Fields, p. 91.
Oldtown Folks, vol. i, p. 29.
Oldtown Folks, vol. 11, p. 54.
Stowe and Stowe, p. 59.
Mrs. Fields, p. 81.
Mrs. Fields, p. 51.
Mrs. Fields, p. 68.
Mrs. Fields, p. 82.
Mrs. Fields, p. 29.
Stowe, p. 58.
Footsteps of the Master, p. 80.
266 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
CHAPTER V: MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI
Mrs. Cheney, Rem., p. 193.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 202.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 229.
Higginson, p. il.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 65.
James Russell Lowell, Letters,
vol. I, p. 128.
Higginson, p. 209.
Love Letters, p. 20.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 234.
Higginson, p. 117.
Higginson, p. 303.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 237.
Horace Greeley, Recollections of
a Busy Life, p. 179.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 43.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 203.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 200.
Horace Greeley, Recollections of
a Busy Life, p. 181.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jou-r-
nals, vol. VI, p. 366.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 298.
Higginson, p. 306.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 236.
Mrs. Cheney, Rem., p. 205.
Memoirs, vol. i, p, 214.
Horace Greeley, Recollections of
a Busy Life, p. 179.
Love Letters, p. 30.
Mrs. Cheney, Rem., p. 207.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 206.
Memoirs, vol. i, p. 303.
Higginson, p. 66.
Higginson, p. 289.
Love Letters, p. 28.
Higginson, p. 100.
Higginson, p. 59.
Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 97.
Love Letters, p. 128.
37. Memoirs, vol. 11, p. iii.
38. Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Hawthorne and His Wife,
vol. I, p. 261.
39. Mrs. Cheney, Rem., p. 210. Mrs.
Cheney quotes the words
without saying explicitly that
they are Margaret's. A fine
phrase in any case.
40. Memoirs, vol. i, p. 132.
41. Hedge MS.
42. Higginson, p. 64.
43. Higginson, p. 99.
44. Higginson, p. 123.
45. Hedge MS.
46. Hedge MS.
47. Frederick Augustus Braun,
Margaret Fuller and Goethe,
48. Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 60.
49. Love Letters, p. 131.
50. Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 173.
51. Higginson, p. 307.
52. Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 53.
53. Higginson, p. 28.
54. Higginson, p. 55.
55. Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 288.
56. MS., B. P. L. The complete
distortion of this passage in
Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 301, is an
interesting instance of the un-
reliability of printed texts.
57. Higginson, p. 104.
58. Higginson, p. 31.
59. Memoirs, vol. i, p. 281.
60. Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 67.
61. Memoirs, vol. i, p. 288.
63. Love Letters, p. 100.
64. Love Letters, p. 130.
65. Love Letters, p. 187.
66. Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Hawthorne and His Wife,
vol. I, p. 259.
67. F. B. Sanborn, Recollections of
Seventy Years, vol. 11, p. 412.
68. MS., B. P. L.
69. Memoirs, vpl. 11, p. 294.
70. MS., B. P. L.
71. Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 264.
72. Memoirs, vol. 11, p. 286.
7Z. MS., B. P. L.
74. MS., B. P. L.
75. MS., B. P. L.
CHAPTER VI: LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
Mrs. Cheney, p. 49. 29.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 39. 30.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 108. 31.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 169. 32.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 63. Z3-
Mrs. Cheney, p. 198. 34.
Little Women, chapter xxxiv.
Little Women, chapter xxx. 35.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 389. ^6.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 321. 37.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 159. 38.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 201. 39.
Little Women, chapter xxix. 40.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 199. 41.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 169. 42.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 316. 43.
To Maria S. Porter, in NewEng- 44.
land Magazine, New Series, 45.
vol. VI, p. 4. 46.
From Mrs. Alcott's Journal, in 47.
Life of A. Branson Alcott, by 48.
F. B. Sanborn and William 49.
T. Harris, vol. 11, p. 473- 50.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 300. 51.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 198. 52.
Little Women, chapter XLVil. 53-
Mrs. Cheney, p. 116. 54.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 37. 55.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 89. 56.
Recollections of My Childhood, 57.
in Lulu's Library, vol. ill. 58.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 357. 59-
Shawl Straps, chapter v. 60.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 45.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 88.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 179.
Recollections of my Childhood,
in Lulu's Library, vol. in.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 109.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 81.
Hospital Sketches, postscript.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 156.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 60.
Mrs. Cheney, p. loi.
Work, chapter vii.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 94.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 166.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 197.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 60.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 95.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 88.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 326.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 352.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 399.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 125.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 159.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 270.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 127.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 169.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 152.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 270.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 45.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 273.
Mrs. Cheney, p. 83.
268 PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN
62. Mrs. Cheney, p. 108.
63. Mrs. Cheney, p. 131.
64. Mrs. Cheney, p. 89.
65. Mrs. Cheney, p. 370.
66. Mrs. Cheney, p. 209.
67. Mrs. Cheney, p. 202.
68. Mrs. Cheney, p. 105.
69. Mrs. Cheney, p. 272.
70. Mrs. Cheney, p. 227.
71. Hospital Sketches, chapter iii.
72. Hospital Sketches, chapter iv.
73. Mrs. Cheney, p. 262.
74. Correspondance de Voltaire, edi-
tion 1881, vol. XI, p. 168.
CHAPTER VII: FRANCES ELIZABETH WILLARD
Glimpses, p. 660.
Glimpses, p. 4.
Glimpses, pp. 125, 144.
Glimpses, p. 633.
Glimpses, p. 4.
Glimpses, p. 133.
Glimpses, p. 77.
Glimpses, p. 109.
Glimpses, p. 222-
Glimpses, p. 687.
To Mrs. Sarah Knowles Bolton,
Glimpses, p. 151.
Glimpses, p. 153.
Glimpses, p. 125.
Life, p. 40.
Glimpses, p. 149.
Glimpses, p. 645.
Glimpses, p. 72.
Glimpses, p. 127.
Glimpses, p. 159.
Glimpses, p. 103.
Glimpses, p. 168.
Glimpses, p. 170.
Glimpses, p. 177.
Glimpses, p. 113.
Mary R. Parkman, Heroines of
Service, p. iii.
Glimpses, p. 129.
Glimpses, p. 363.
Glimpses, p. 686.
Glimpses, p. 633.
yi Li/e 0/ Service, Sketches of
Frances E. Willard, p. 18.
32. Glimpses, p. 689.
33. .^ Li/^ 0/ Service, Sketches of
Frances E. Willard, p. 28.
34. Lj/^, p. 318.
35. A Life of Service, Sketches of
Frances E<. Willard, p. 15.
36. Glimpses, p. 68.
27. Glimpses, p. 131.
38. Glimpses, p. 518.
39. Life, p. 55.
40. A Life of Service, Sketches of
Frances E. Willard, p. 15.
41. Hannah Whitall Smith, in
Glimpses, Introduction, p. v.
42. Life, p. 318.
43. Glimpses, Introduction, p. vi.
44. Life, p. 398.
45. Glimpses, p. 9.
46. Glimpses, p. 230.
47. Glimpses, p. 492.
48. Glimpses, Introduction, p. v.
49. Glimpses, p. 687.
50. Glimpses, p. 625.
51. Glimpses, p. 690.
52. Glimpses, p. 593.
53. Glimpses, p. 499.
54. Glimpses, p. 125.
55. Glimpses, p. 627.
56. Glimpses, pp. 646-649.
57. Glimpses, p. 632.
58. Glimpses, p. 633.
59. Glimpses, p. 340.
CHAPTER VIII: EMILY DICKINSON
in the At-
Letters, p. 294.
Letters, p. 248.
Poems, II, p. 74,
Mrs. Bianchi, p. 40.
T, W. Higginson, in the At-
lantic Monthly, vol. Lxviii
Poems, The Single Hound, p.
Letters, p. 302.
Letters, p. 94.
Poems, I, p. 106.
Mrs. Bianchi, p. 41.
T. W. Higginson,
Mrs. Bianchi, p. 42.
Letters, p. 52.
Letters, p. 237.
Letters, p. 282.
Letters, p. 164.
Letters, p. 171.
Poems, III, p. 26.
Letters, p. 181.
Letters, p. 205.
Mrs. Bianchi, p. 40,
Mrs. Bianchi, p. ^y.
Letters, p. 240.
Letters, p. 169,
Mrs. Bianchi, p. 27-
Letters, p. 255.
Letters, p. 302.
Letters, p. 104.
Letters, p. 167.
Letters, p. 294.
Letters, p. 309.
Letters, p. 6.
Letters, p. 48.
Letters, p. 147.
Letters, p. 67.
Poems, I, p. 121.
Letters, p. 171.
Letters, p. 86.
r/t^ Single Hound, preface, p.
T/fe Single Hound, preface, p.
Letters, p. 76.
Letters, p. 67.
Letters, p. 249.
MS., letter in possession of Mr,
Mrs. Bianchi, p. 27.
Letters, p. 106.
Letters, p. 47.
Letters, p. 62.
Letters, p. 149.
Letters, p. 279.
Letters, p. 157.
r/z^ Single Hound, p. 108.
Letters, p. 303.
Letters, p. 265.
Letters, p. 223.
Poems, III, p. 168.
Letters, p. 295.
Second Stanza of the Shake-
speare Lyric has been slightly
altered to conform with the
Adams, Abigail, wife of John Adams,
mother of John Quincy Adams, 3;
girlhood spent in a New England
parsonage, 3; married life in Wash-
ington, 3 ; her nature, though strong,
feminine and maternal, 4-7; her
home cares excessive, but delight-
ful to her, 5, 6; lacked book learn-
ing, 7, 13; teaching of her children
deeply moral, 7, 8; a woman of so-
cial tact, 9; her rare power of ex-
pression, 9, 10; aesthetic sensibility
not highly developed, 10; her love
of music and nature, 1 1 ; her whim-
sical nature, 11, 12; not too stoical
for a woman, 11, 12; lived in a pe-
riod of great stress, 12; regretted her
lack of education, 13; an appreci-
ative reader, 13, 14; religious big-
otry abhorrent to her, 15; her thrift,
17, 18; her courage, 18, 19, 21; her
political insight, 20; letter to her
husband quoted, 25, 26; her calm
acceptance of his defeat, 26; her
understanding of him, 28, 29; her
hunger for his affection, 29, 30; pre-
* eminently a woman, 30.
Adams, John, President, his power
and honesty, 22; his egotism, 22;
quoted, 22, 23; considered scolding
a duty, 23 ; attitude toward his wife,
23, 24; dependence upon her, 28,
Adams, John Quincy, President, son
of Abigail Adams, 3; depth of his
affection for his mother, 8.
Alcott, Louisa May, her girlhood, 167,
168; personal characteristics, 170,
171, 177, 178; her family affection,
172-75; her feeling for nature, 177;
subject to exhilaration and de-
pression, 179, 1 80, 185; matters of
the heart, 180-82; her ambition,
183; her methods of work, 184; the
need of earning money, 186, 187,
189-91; a preacher, 187, 188; ne-
cessity and instinct for writing,
187; success, 191, 193.
Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 219, 220.
Allyn, Miss (Mrs. Francis), friend of
Sarah Alden Ripley, 43.
Amiel, Henri Frederic, quoted, 96, 97.
Arconati, Madame, on Margaret
Beecher, Henry Ward, fascination of,
105, 127; Mrs. Stowe's love for him,
Beecher, Lyman, father of Harriet
Beecher, no, 113, 116, 127; dynamic
personality, no; a giant of the
Bianchi, Mrs. Martha Dickinson,
niece of Emily Dickinson, 231.
Bradford, Captain, of Duxbury, father
of Sarah Alden Ripley, 36.
Burton, Robert, 244.
Byron controversy, the, Mrs. Stowe's
part in, 126.
Calvinism, earnestness of that creed
characteristic of Abigail Adams, 15;
its need of sunshine, 16.
Cheney, Mrs. Ednah D., 133, 143, 170,
Child, Professor F. J., his opinion of
Sarah Alden Ripley, 35.
Credo, Margaret Fuller Ossoli, 151.
Dial, the, 154.
Diary of John Quincy Adams, quoted,
Dickinson, Austen, brother of Emily
Dickinson, Emily, Amherst her life-
long home, 229, 230; natural reti-
cence increased by secluded sur-
roundings, 230, 231; intense love of
home, 231; love of words in them-
selves, 231, 232; love for music and
ability in it, 232; nature her com-
panion, 232, 233; ability to write
poetry and prose, 233; thoughts her
playthings, 233, 234; her fantastic
dreams, 235; her faith in God, 235,
236, 251, 255, 256; intellectual
quality of her love, 238-44; abstract
interest in life, 244-55; her whim-
sicality, 246-52; compared with
Shakespeare's clowns, 247, 248, 256;
her attitude toward formal religion,
250, 251; her poetry not a conscious
Eliot, George, Harriet Beecher Stowe's
reproach of, 128.
Emerson, Mary Moody, friend of
Sarah Alden Ripley, 42.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, nephew by
marriage to Mrs. Ripley, 59; great
difference in their attitudes toward
life, 60 ; his comment on Mrs. Ripley,
60, 61; his religious reaction, 61, 62;
on Margaret Fuller, 134, 137, 138,
139, 140, 142; later friendship with
Emerson's Journal, passages in, re-
ferring to Mrs. Ripley, 60.
Everett, Edward, his opinion of Sarah
Alden Ripley, 35.
Fields, James T., tells Miss Alcott she
"can't write," 190.
Fiske, Fidelia, Recollections, Mary
Lj'on quoted in, 84.
Flambert, Gustave, 244, 245.
France, Anatole, quoted, iii.
Goethe, his influence upon Margaret
Greeley, Horace, friend of Margaret
Fuller, 135, 137, 139.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Margaret
Fuller, 135, 147; comment on Mar-
quis Ossoli, 159.
Hedge, F. H., his analysis of Mrs.
Ripley's character, 53.
Helvetius, Madame, friend of Frank-
Higginson, Col. T. W., on Margaret
Fuller, 140; and Emily Dickinson,
Hitchcock, Prof. Edward, 76.
Hoar, George F,, his Autobiography,
quoted, 35; comment on Mrs. Rip-
ley's teaching, 55.
Howe, Julia Ward, 158.
Jefferson, Thomas, Abigail Adams's
animosity toward, 27. 3
Lamb, Charles, Emily Dickinson
comparable to, 246, 247.
Lowell, James Russell, cautions Mrs.
Stowe, 122, 123 ; on Margaret Fuller,
Lyon, Mary, foundress of Mount
Holyoke College, 67; her grit and
determination, 67; self-discipline,
68; her desire to obtain and to im-
part education, 69-72; her mastery
of obstacles, 73-77; the realization
of all her hopes in the opening of
Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1837,
78; her discipline dynamic, 80; her
sympathy, 83; her laughter, 84-86;
her gift of inspiration, 87; not essen-
tially a scholar, 87-89; her idea of
education, 89, 90, 95, 96; her aim
in teaching, 90, 91 ; her religion, 92-
Mann, Horace, on Margaret Fuller,
Mather, Cotton, Magnolia, 108.
Moliere, dramas of, criticised by Abi-
gail Adams, 13, 14.
Montague, Lady Mary, Abigail Ad-
ams comparable to, 10.
New England conscience, the, 124.
Ossoli, Margaret Fuller, 133; her per-
sonal appearance, 134; her four-
square egotism, 135-37, I45, 146;
could be all things to all men, 137,
138; her power of stimulation, 139-
41; her faculty of eliciting con-
fession, 142; her gift of analysis,
144, 145; her studies, 148-50; her
Credo, 151; her appreciation of na-
ture, 152, 153; her place in litera-
ture, 153, 154; always a lover, 154-
61; a prudent manager, 155; her re-
lation with Emerson, 156, 157;
marriage to Marquis Ossoli, 159;
birth of her son, 160; in the Italian
revolution, 161, 162; lost in ship-
Ossoli, Marquis, husband of Margaret
Pater, Walter, Imaginary Portrait, Se-
bastian van Stork quoted, 64.
Penn's Hill, 19.
Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart, anecdote of
Mrs. Stowe, 117.
Religion: Abigail Adams abhorred
bigotry, 15; Mrs. Ripley's religious
experiences, 38, 51, 52, 58, 59, 61,
62; Mary Lyon's attitude toward,
92-97; the great activity of Mrs.
Stowe, 109-14; literature the nat-
ural expression for preaching, 117;
Margaret Fuller's Credo, 151 ; Louisa
Alcott a preacher, 187, 188; Frances
Willard's religion an art, 207; Em-
ily Dickinson's attitude toward
religion, 235, 236, 250, 251, 255,
Ripley, Sarah Alden, her passion for
all kinds of study, 35, 36, 47, 88;
her freedom from conventional
habit, 37, 38; her religious inde-
pendence, 38; her freedom from
pedantry, 39, 40; early death of her
mother, 40; her consequent house-
hold cares, 40; her analysis of peo-
ple, 41, 42; her marriage to Samuel
Ripley, 43; prominence of sorrow in
her old age, 45; her affection for her
home circle, 47, 48; quoted, 49; re-
linquished a life of study for one of
housekeeping, 50; her life as a
clergyman's wife, 51, 52; teaching,
53-55; her pupils' love for her, 55;
her thirst for pure knowledge, 57,
58; her skepticism, 58, 59; her skep-
ticism contrasted with Emerson's
faith, 61, 62; her love of study en-
tirely disinterested, 63, 64.
Rollins's Ancient History, 7.
Rubens, Peter Paul, Mrs. Stowe's
conversion to, 128.
Russell, Lady, Abigail Adams com-
parable to, 24.
Sainte-Beuve, quoted, 47.
Sevigne, Madame de, Abigail Adams
comparable to, 6, 10.
Shakespeare's clowns, brothers to
Emily Dickinson, 247, 248, 256.
Staal-Delaunay, Madame de, Mrs.
Stowe's contrast to, 105.
Stowe, Prof. Calvin E., husband of
Harriet Beecher, 108.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, born and
grew up in religious atmosphere,
loi ; her nervous temperament, 102-
04; her liking for people recipro-
cated, 105, 121; her passionate yet
reserved nature, 107; not a great
scholar, 108, 109; religion her great
concern, 109-14; her desire to "do
something," 1 14-16; the pen her
best implement, 117-20; her suc-
cess, 121, 122; a student of character
and manners, 123, 124; a furious
preacher, 125-27; her part in the
Byron controversy, 126; a sunny,
human person, 127; her sense of
beauty, 128, 129.
Thoreau, H. D., 58.
TroUope, Anthony, quoted, 125.
Uttcle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher
Stowe, influence of, 129, 130.
Voltaire, quoted, 193, 206.
Waltham, Mr. Ripley's parish at, 51.
Watts, Isaac, Moral Songs for Children,
Willard, Frances Elizabeth, her hered-
itYi 197; her excellent health, 198;
strongly individual, 199; had strik-
ing social qualities, 200; very affec-
tionate, 201, 202; her juvenile read-
ing, 204; a fearless analyst, 205;
feeling for music, 206; her religion
an art, 207; a worker for humanity,
207; the cause of temperance, 208;
her gift of organization, 209; her
eloquence, 209, 210; her tact, 211;
what prohibition did for her, 213-
16; unfailing hope, 217; her per-
sonal motives, 218; her ambition,
219; her self-consciousness, 220—22;
her enjoyment of her work, 222-
Willard, May, sister of Frances E^
Woman's Christian Temperance
Union, Frances E. Willard head of,
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Portraits of American women.